Colin Reed: Protecting donor privacy – Supreme Court has an opportunity to protect supporters of charity from harassment
As Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse began to defend his association with an allegedly all-white Tony beach club as a “long tradition,” he simultaneously presented Juneteenth as “historic recognition of our past to help us move forward towards Justice “.
It was a delicious dose of hypocrisy, even by Whitehouse standards, which, when not embroiled in a scandal, generally demagogues the evils of so-called “black money.”
You know the term. Liberals use it to describe conservative nonprofit organizations that are not required to disclose their financial support to preserve their freedom of association. Naturally, they are silent about leftist groups who employ the same tactics to keep their donors private.
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In a recent coup, Whitehouse even denigrated the majority in the Supreme Court – which was confirmed by a majority in the US Senate in which he sits – as “servants of right-wing black money interests.”
While hyperbolic rhetoric is normal for the otherwise forgettable White House, the setting for this incident was significant. As he accused the Supreme Court justices of being bought and paid for by special interest groups, he physically stood on their steps, vowing to “keep the spotlight on the six Republicans in the building behind me.”
If that sounds like outright manipulation or bullying, that’s because it is. Ask Whitehouse. After a 7-2 majority on the court, including two judges appointed by former President Trump, upheld the Affordable Care Act, Whitehouse proudly credited the “warnings” he and his fellow Democrats had issued to the during their respective confirmation process.
He may not realize it, but Whitehouse makes the best case for the importance of donor confidentiality. If Supreme Court justices are the target of political harassment from a US senator, imagine what it is to an ordinary citizen. They have the threat of a red-faced senator with subpoena power screaming at their doorstep. Literally. What a terrifying thought, and one that would send most people rushing out of the political arena.
A leak from the IRS to Pro Publica earlier this month is expected to send shivers down the spines of anyone – left, right, and center – concerned about donor privacy.
No wonder such an ideologically diverse group has united around one of the costliest pieces left to the role of the Supreme Court. Known as the “Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Xavier Becerra, ”the lawsuit attempts to reverse California’s general policy forcing charities to turn over the names and addresses of their major donors to the government.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and PETA – not groups typically associated with conservative causes – have all signed amicus briefs claiming that forcing nonprofits to turn over their major donors to government is a privacy violation and the First Amendment.
And for good reason. The IRS ‘leak to Pro Publica earlier this month is expected to send shivers down the spines of anyone – left, right, and center – concerned about donor privacy.
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In the words of Pro Publica, their report contained “a vast mine of Internal Revenue Service data on the tax returns of thousands of the richest people in the country.” Targets varied across the political spectrum, including well-known liberals who dabbled in “black money” space, such as George Soros and Michael Bloomberg.
In the past, the Conservatives were most concerned about the ramifications of the federal government having improper access to personal financial information. The Pro Publica leak has shown us that no one is safe, especially with President Joe Biden keen to hire an army of 87,000 additional IRS agents.
We have seen this movie before. Who can forget the debacle of the Obama years when a Washington bureaucrat named Lois Lerner became a household name for arming the IRS to push a political agenda against those who support conservative causes?
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Of course, Whitehouse was never one to let facts get in the way of political rhetoric, but as he learned from his beach club scandal, the facts have a way of catching up. His credibility as a warrior of racial justice has been swept by the sea.
But for anyone worried about donor harassment and intimidation, the stakes are high.
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