TMI, which is short for “too much information,” is one of those online shorthands that has entered the cultural zeitgeist because it speaks to a truth we can all feel — there are things about a person’s life that just don’t need to be shared. But in New Jersey, the land of fist-pumping reality tv stars and table-flipping housewives, our legislature seems to have forgotten the value of keeping some things to yourself.
What’s going on?
A bill being debated in the New Jersey State House would mandate the disclosure of donations that could previously be shielded from public view. S1500/A1524 would require 527 groups and 501(c)4 organizations to release the names of donors who give more than $10,000 and disclose all expenditures over $3,000 that are “made, incurred, or authorized by it in influencing or attempting to influence the outcome of any election or the nomination, election, or defeat of any person to State or local elective public office or the passage or defeat of any public question, legislation, or regulation, or in providing political information on any candidate or public question, legislation, or regulation”.
Is it cold in here?
Whether this legislation will do what its sponsors intend and stop the spending of so-called “dark money” in politics is uncertain since money, like water, will flow no matter what. It will, however, have a chilling effect on people and organizations who want to exercise their First Amendment rights of speech and petition, and the related freedom of association — rights that are often deemed essential in a pluralistic and prospering society.
Some donors who give over $10,000 will almost certainly stop giving or reduce their gifts rather than have their identity disclosed. This hurts both organizations and the small donors who are able to have their voice amplified by larger gifts.
This is especially alarming when you consider (c)(4)s are, by definition, focused on advancing social welfare. Yes, the National Rifle Association, Americans for Prosperity, and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund are (c)(4)s, but so are the Lions Club, Rotary International, and the Miss America Organization.
At a time when Americans are so divided on so many topics, our lawmakers should not discourage the public from joining civic organizations or engaging in political advocacy. If anything, these activities should be made easier and more accessible.
Not a good look.
Unless 527s and 501(c)(4)s speak up and speak out in defense of their members’ privacy, this legislation has a good chance of passing.
The flames of reform are being fanned because a (c)(4) that promotes Gov. Phil Murphy’s agenda went back on a promise to disclose its donors, and utility receiving a generous subsidy mistakenly donated $55,000 to a super PAC (which disclosed the donation) rather than a similarly named 501(c)4 organization that supports the NJ Senate President.
It’s not a good look. But is it worse than ignoring First Amendment concerns?