Can Americans agree on anything anymore?
Absolutely. We can all agree on protecting our right to free speech.
We saw powerful proof not too long ago. Nearly 300 diverse groups, representing millions of Americans, united to defend free speech before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2021. They include free-market advocates and LGBTQ activists, tax-cutters and animal welfare defenders, abortion providers and racial justice leaders, and beyond.
Together, they asked the court to protect people’s right to support their favorite causes without the government forcing them to put their name on a list. The court agreed, calling California’s system of forced disclosure unconstitutional. It makes sense – if the government can strip people of their privacy, we can all be threatened into silence. True free speech – and the progress it enables people to drive – requires us all to respect that right.
So why is Arizona stifling this fundamental freedom?
Proposition 211’s proponents claim it is needed to stop “dark money,” that they define as people trying to hide giving to political campaigns through intermediaries. But such practices are already illegal under both Arizona law and federal law, and Proposition 211 doesn’t just target political campaigns. Instead, the scope is so sweeping that it impacts essentially any organization that speaks up on any issue – from civil rights to immigration. These groups will be forced to list their supporters’ names, addresses and employers.
That’s great news if you’re a politician seeking to silence your opponents, not so much if you’re an Arizonan – of any political belief.
What’s more, Proposition 211 doesn’t just require disclosures of those who give to a cause, but of people who give to an organization that gives to an organization that supports a cause. It will create complicated and misleading “disclosures” of people who simply supported a charity, only to find themselves listed as a supporter of something they had nothing to do with.
For example, if a local graphic designer provides more than $5,000 in donated website development services for a women’s health nonprofit and that group provides funding to another organization that runs radio ads about a reproductive policy, the state would mandate that group turn over the graphic designer’s personal information. If a church member donates just $50 per week to their parish for two years and that church donates to an organization that advocates on polices affecting homelessness in ways that trigger the statute, Arizona similarly mandates that the parishioner’s identity be publicized.
Add it all up, and Prop. 211 will stifle Arizonans from advocating for causes they care about. Imagine if the first civil rights organizations had been forced to turn over personal information about each of their members and supporters. They would have been viciously targeted, with the goal of stopping the civil rights movement in its tracks. That’s exactly what Alabama tried to do in the 1950s, until the Supreme Court unanimously stopped them.
The fight for marriage equality holds a similar lesson. Imagine if, in the 1980s and 1990s, anyone who joined LGBT groups was forced to make their membership public. They would have been subjected to intense harassment, even violence. Maintaining their privacy was crucial to ensuring their safety while they worked to change the hearts and minds of their fellow Americans.
No American should be forced to choose between staying safe or speaking out.
Today’s unpopular opinions may very well be tomorrow’s mainstream views. But if we stifle free speech now, it will be harder to find out – if we ever do.
Arizona deserves better. That’s why my organization is bringing a federal lawsuit against Proposition 211. We’re asking the courts to uphold Arizonans’ constitutional rights to privacy and free speech – just like the Supreme Court has done from 1950s Alabama to 2020s California.
People of every belief and background deserve to support causes without fear of government harassment or ideological intimidation. That’s something Americans can, and do, agree on.
Stephen Shadegg is Arizona state director at Americans for Prosperity.