When Transparency Really Means Tyranny

485,134 Views
Jun 19, 2017

When you hear the word "transparency," what comes to mind? Maybe words like openness and honesty. But David French, Senior Writer for The National Review, shows how progressive activists, under the guise of "transparency," are ruining the lives of many good Americans.

While transparency in government is essential, requiring “transparency” in private citizens’ political activity can result in tyranny. 

  • Anonymous political speech has played an essential role in the history of the United States, including the revolutionary writings of Thomas Paine and the debates surrounding the ratification of the Constitution.View Source
  • Freedom of speech is a right protected by the First Amendment, which as author David French writes, “requires substantial protection for anonymous speech — especially speech about political issues.”View Source
  • More from David French: “A Season for Justice”View Source

Does the public have a right to know your political activity? No. The Constitution protects individual privacy, including group association.

  • In 1958, the Supreme Court rejected the attempt of the state of Alabama to coerce the NAACP to reveal its complete list of members.View Source
  • The NAACP was able to show that its members experienced “economic reprisal, loss of employment, [and] threat of physical coercion” as a result of their support of the NAACP. The Supreme Court ultimately upheld the importance of the “inviolability of privacy in group association.”View Source
  • Read author David French on recent attempts to violate the constitutionally protected privacy rights of citizens.View Source

Forcing “transparency” on the political donations and activity of private citizens violates constitutionally protected privacy rights. 

  • A widely reported example of a private citizen facing massive pressure because of the exposure of his political donations is the case of Scott Eckern. Eckern was the artistic director of the California Musical Theatre and a Mormon with strong religious convictions, who was pressured to resign his position after an activist group posted online his $1,000 donation in support of California’s Proposition 8, an amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman.View Source
  • The Los Angeles Times published the identities, employer information, and cities of residence of all the private citizens who donated in support of Proposition 8.View Source
  • Read author David French on recent attempts to violate the constitutionally protected privacy rights of citizens.View Source

A robust First Amendment requires substantial protection for anonymous speech—especially speech about political issues.

  • Freedom of speech is a right protected by the First Amendment, which as author David French writes, “requires substantial protection for anonymous speech — especially speech about political issues.”View Source
  • Anonymous political speech has played an essential role in the history of the United States, including the revolutionary writings of Thomas Paine and the debates surrounding the ratification of the Constitution.View Source
  • More from David French: “FIRE's Guide to Religious Liberty on Campus”View Source

When free speech threatens government power, government has a tendency to get curious about the identity and funding of dissenting speakers.

  • Author David French on the government violating individual privacy protections: “When free speech threatens government power, government has a tendency to get curious about the identity and funding of dissenting speakers. This was true in the civil-rights era, when the state of Alabama tried to force the NAACP to divulge its membership lists. It was true during the Obama administration, when the IRS targeted the Tea Party for illegal scrutiny not merely by asking in some cases for donor lists but also by inquiring about the political activities of family members of tea-party leaders and the login information of tea-party websites.”View Source
  • More from David French: “A Season for Justice”View Source

The progressive left is attempting to remove privacy protections for citizens—as is the case with New York’s non-profit donor laws. 

  • New York law now strips donor confidentiality protections from 501c4 non-profits if they actively try to influence public policy, thus making them political targets and undermining First Amendment protections. This law even applies to organizations that advocate against the political position of an elected official, not just for or against the election of an official.View Source
  • In a famous civil rights case in 1958, the Supreme Court upheld the importance of the “inviolability of privacy in group association.”View Source

In 1958, the Supreme Court affirmed privacy rights by rejecting attempts to use political “transparency” to target Civil Rights leaders.

  • In 1958, the Supreme Court rejected the attempt of the state of Alabama to coerce the NAACP to reveal its complete list of members.View Source
  • The NAACP was able to show that its members experienced “economic reprisal, loss of employment, [and] threat of physical coercion” as a result of their support of the NAACP. The Supreme Court ultimately upheld the importance of the “inviolability of privacy in group association.”View Source
  • Read author David French on recent attempts to violate the constitutionally protected privacy rights of citizens.View Source

When you hear the word “transparency,” what comes to mind?

Chances are that you associate the word with a lot of good things, like “openness,” “honesty,” “accountability,” and maybe even “integrity.”  

In a better world, those associations would be accurate. But in the world of the progressive left, “transparency” means something very different. And you need to be aware of that meaning or you risk becoming a victim of it.

Everybody – on the left and the right – agrees that transparency in government is a good thing. With the exception of issues involving national security, the government should be transparent in its dealings. The public has a right to know what the government is doing with your tax dollars. But transparency means something completely different when it comes to the private, non-government realm. Take, for example, where you choose to donate your money. Transparency in this case means that there is a public record of your donation. Now, this might sound okay, but it isn’t. Why? Because it puts you on the radar of your political opponents and makes you a potential target. 

Scott Eckern was a theatre director in Sacramento, California who gave a $1,000 donation to support the traditional definition of marriage. Maybe you don’t agree with Scott’s position. That’s your right. But the LA Times didn’t just disagree; they put every single donation made by people like Scott online. Scott Eckern lost his job, and others faced boycotts and blacklisting, all because of "so-called" transparency in an area of life that should be private.

Through most of our nation’s history, what happened to Scott Eckern wouldn’t have happened: if you made a political donation, your identity was not exposed. But under pressure from the left, this is changing. 

In New York, for example, it’s now the law that if a non-profit organization advocates against a position taken by an elected official, it must disclose to the government the identities of all the organization’s significant donors. Faced with this prospect, most people would just as soon avoid the risk altogether. Safer, in other words, to keep your mouth shut and your checkbook closed.  

Even when state officials promise to keep this donor information confidential, you can’t trust them. In 2015, the California attorney general, Kamala Harris, now a U.S. Senator, demanded that nonprofits disclose their donor lists to the state, and then her office "accidentally" posted this private donor information online.

But even if the government kept that information secret, it’s none of its business. Because while transparency is a government obligation, privacy is an individual right. How do we know? Because of the First Amendment. 

In the 1950s, the state of Alabama tried to force the NAACP to disclose its membership lists. This demand came at a time when civil rights activists faced physical threats and economic reprisals for standing up for basic human rights. Fortunately, the Supreme Court stepped in and ruled unanimously that the First Amendment protected their right of freedom of association, and that included protection from prying eyes. 

Progressives say we need “transparency” to expose the so-called “dark money” behind non-profits and political candidates they don’t like – exactly what those racist bigots said about contributions to the NAACP in the 1950s.

Anonymous speech has been a blessing for this country. Anonymous pamphleteers helped launch the American Revolution. Anonymous writers helped ratify the Constitution. Anonymous activists helped liberate black Americans from the oppression of Jim Crow.  

But if we’re not careful, anonymity will soon be a thing of the past. 

If the message is, “you have free speech to address the issues, but only if you don’t care about the consequences,” then fewer people will speak freely. And for those on the left, that’s just fine. In fact, that’s the intent. Here’s what David Callahan writes in the left-leaning journal, Inside Philanthropy: 

“If the donors can’t [take the heat], they can choose not to give.”

So, now you’re wise to the game. The next time you hear a politician or an activist talking about “transparency,” ask a simple question: Who should be transparent? If he says the government, tell him yes. If he says you, the private citizen, tell him no. Your speech is your business. 

I’m David French for Prager University.

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