A recent survey -- taken prior to revelations about IRS misconduct and commissioned by the American Conservative Union -- showed that a majority of Americans have become increasingly concerned about their free speech and privacy rights.
Americans since the founding of our Republic, have placed the protection of our personal freedoms and right to privacy above all else. We have been rightfully alarmed over the past months as we have watched the federal government intrude into the private lives of its citizens.
Whether its members of the press being submitted to eavesdropping without due process, certain members of Congress trying to forcefully obtain names of contributors to our favorite causes, government forcing businesses who bid for government work to inform this administration to whom they have made political contributions, or the IRS taking oppressive and selective actions against organizations with conservative leanings, it is clear that we are at a tipping point.
Take it from me. My family learned first-hand the consequences of losing our personal freedoms in our native Cuba where we lost every right a free person should expect. They included the right to express one’s political beliefs, the right to disagree with one’s government without repercussions and the right to be free from government intrusion into every aspect of one’s life.
In America one section of our government grants political asylum to citizens from other countries fleeing oppressive regimes who have taken away all their rights, while another section of our same government exerts total power and authority over our personal finances and intimidates its own citizenry at will. This must end.
Americans have spoken. About a month ago the American Conservative Union (ACU) asked McLaughlin and Associates to conduct a comprehensive survey on privacy and free speech.
This was long before the IRS Director of Exempt Organizations Louis Lerner publicly acknowledged that they were targeting conservative organizations for special scrutiny during the application process.
We can only imagine how the responses from our April survey would look now, after the revelations about the IRS and AP scandals.
ACU’s national poll of 600 voters on April 4 showed that 99% of all Americans supported free speech and the right to privacy which were so blatantly violated by the IRS for conservatives, tea parties and religious groups. Those polled were a representative sample of national ideological and partisan demographics, with more Democrats than Republicans participating and more moderates and liberals combined than conservatives.
The survey found that 89% “approved protecting the rights of privacy of American citizens to speak out on issues without fear of reprisal or retribution from anyone, including those in government, the media, their employers or opposing issue advocacy groups.”
Similarly, 86% agreed that “private American citizens have a right to privacy when they support any issue advocacy groups.” And 86% agreed that “American citizens have a right to privacy when they support independent issue groups.”
Two thirds of all voters already believe that our individual freedoms are threatened by Washington. A whopping 68% agree that “our current individual freedoms are being threatened by more federal government regulations from Washington.” Only 27% disagree.
Six in ten voters say making their donations public would deter them from contributing to issue causes. Fifty-nine percent of all voters said yes to the question “if they knew that any contribution you gave to any cause such as Planned Parenthood, the NRA, Greenpeace, the NAACP etc, was publicly available for anyone to see at any time, would it deter you from contributing to such causes.” Only 33% said no.
Specifically regarding President Obama, most voters already view him as wanting to limit free speech. Before the IRS targeting of conservatives, tea parties and religious groups, the majority of voters agreed 50% to 44% that “Barack Obama's administration has shown a pattern of attempting to limit free speech and take away your personal rights.”
Surprisingly, the majority of voters in our April survey also thought that the Obama administration was trying to discourage political opposition.
Fifty-two percent of all voters agreed that “by pushing for the disclosure of donors to non-profit groups that advocate on issues of public concern and causes, such as the environment, education and the economy, the Obama administration is merely seeking to discourage support of positions that are not politically correct or that people may be uncomfortable having disclosed to the public at large.” Only 32% disagreed.
A plurality of voters are already suspect of their elected leaders’ motives as simply trying to silence their critics. Forty-four percent agreed that “politicians want to require the public release of any American who gives money to any issue or cause so that they can see who opposes them and take measures to silence their critics.” Only 43% disagreed, but imagine what that result would be today!
Bottom line is that the vast majority of Americans support protections for free speech and privacy, which are quickly being chipped away. As we see how deep and widespread this problem is -- I suggest that the only solution is to shrink the size and scope of government.
First we need to overhaul the tax code and the IRS and ensure that privacy and free speech are protected. But we also need to look at what other bureaucracies are too big, too powerful and have become a threat to the individual liberty of law abiding American citizens.
America is an exceptional nation because it was founded on the idea that government is the servant of the people and not its master. We must redouble our efforts to rein in government, because we are the ultimate check on its power.
Because let’s be honest – if the government has the power to go after and attempt to silence one group of people, why would it just stop there? Who else could it target?
Al Cardenas is chairman of the American Conservative Union.