Colin Reed: Protecting donor privacy – Supreme Court has chance to protect charity supporters from harassment

Whitehouse is making the best case for the importance of donor privacy

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As Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse began defending his association with a tony beach club purported to be all-White as "long tradition," he was simultaneously touting Juneteenth as a "historic acknowledgment of our past to help carry us forward toward justice." 

It was a delicious dose of hypocrisy, even by Whitehouse’s standards, who, when not embroiled in scandal, is usually grandstanding about the evils of so-called "dark money." 

You know the term. Liberals use it to describe conservative nonprofit organizations that are not required to disclose their financial supporters to preserve their freedom of association. Naturally, they fall silent about left-wing groups who employ the same tactics to keep their donors private. 

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In a recent stunt, Whitehouse even denigrated the majority of the Supreme Court – which was confirmed by a majority of the U.S. Senate in which he serves – as "servants of right-wing dark money interests." 

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While hyperbolic rhetoric is par for the course for the otherwise forgettable Whitehouse, the setting of this incident was meaningful. As he was accusing Supreme Court justices of being bought and paid for by special-interest groups, he was physically standing on their steps, vowing "to keep the spotlight on the six Republicans in the building behind me." 

If this seems like manipulation or downright intimidation, that’s because it is. Just ask Whitehouse. After a 7-2 majority on the court, including two justices appointed by former President Trump, upheld the Affordable Care Act, Whitehouse proudly credited the "warnings" he and his fellow Democrats had issued during their respective confirmation process. 

He may not realize it, but Whitehouse is making the best case for the importance of donor privacy. If justices on the Supreme Court are targets of political harassment from a U.S. senator, imagine what it is like for everyday 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 folks scurrying out of the political arena.  

IRS leak to Pro Publica earlier this month should send chills up the spine of anyone – left, right and center – concerned about donor privacy.  

No wonder such an ideologically diverse group has united around one of the remaining big-ticket items left on the Supreme Court’s docket. Known as "Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Xavier Becerra," the suit attempts to overturn California’s blanket 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 arguing that forcing nonprofits to turn over their major donors to the government is a violation of privacy and the First Amendment.  

And for good reason. The IRS leak to Pro Publica earlier this month should send chills up the spine 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 trove of Internal Revenue Service data on the tax returns of thousands of the nation’s wealthiest people." Targets ranged the political spectrum, including well-known liberals who have dabbled in the "dark money" space, such as George Soros and Michael Bloomberg. 

It used to be that conservatives were the ones most concerned about the ramifications of the federal government having undue access to personal financial information. The Pro Publica leak showed us that no one is immune, especially with President Joe Biden wanting to hire an army of 87,000 more IRS agents.  

We’ve 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 weaponizing the IRS to push a political agenda against those supporting conservative causes? 

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Of course, Whitehouse has never been one to let facts get in the way of political rhetoric, but as he has learned from his beach club scandal, facts have a way of catching up. His credibility as a racial justice warrior has been swept out to sea. 

But for anyone else who is concerned about donor harassment and intimidation, the stakes are high.  

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