Sunday, October 01, 2023

OPINION: PUPF CEO responds to Souza

by HEATHER LAUER/Guest Opinion
| March 31, 2023 1:00 AM

Mary Souza inadvertently made a strong case in her latest column for why nonprofit donor privacy is an essential First Amendment right to defend.

Every year, my organization, People United for Privacy Foundation (PUFPF), pushes back on countless politicians who have an axe to grind with whoever recently opposed them in a policy fight or criticized their views and voting record during an election. Politicians across the country — on both sides of the aisle — push donor disclosure legislation as a way to retaliate against their ideological opponents when they can’t win a public policy debate based on the merits.

Idahoans didn’t think Mary represented their views during her last political campaign. She lost, and she’s clearly not happy about that result. But that’s not a legitimate reason for wanting to expose and target Idaho residents who support charities, churches, or advocacy organizations, whether they donate $10 or $10,000 to those causes.

It is true that I’m a volunteer board member — and longtime donor — of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. It’s also true that I don’t agree with IFF on issues 100% of the time. Why I support IFF is no one else’s business. Despite that, I intentionally made the decision to be publicly affiliated with the organization, and I’m proud of the work they’re doing to hold politicians accountable. However, thousands of Idahoans prefer to keep their affiliation with IFF — and other organizations in the state — private. Mary Souza’s recent column attacking me and fellow Idahoans with whom I affiliate shows exactly why.

PUFPF’s mission is to protect all Americans — regardless of their beliefs — from harassment, threats, and intimidation from politicians and activists who disagree with them. Idaho Chooses Life, Planned Parenthood, NRA, Moms Demand Action… whatever issue moves you, I strongly and passionately believe in your right to join with fellow citizens to support those causes without fear of being fired from your job, having protesters show up at your house, or being physically harmed. That’s what the First Amendment right to privacy in your giving choices protects.

I am not talking about donations to political candidates. Those donations are, and should be, disclosed so we know who is potentially influencing an elected official with their direct contribution to a campaign. Supporting an organization that may talk about the actions of politicians is not at all the same. Only politicians benefit from the disclosure of donors to causes that question their policy positions. The only reason for that kind of disclosure is to know who your enemies are so you can attack them.

Mary needs a basic lesson in the First Amendment. Over the past six decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has made several decisions protecting freedom of speech and privacy in association, starting in 1958 when the court blocked the state of Alabama from demanding the supporter list of the NAACP, citing concerns about retribution against the group’s members and financial backers. Fast forward to 2021, when the Supreme Court again affirmed in the Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta decision that Americans have the right to privately associate with others who share their beliefs.

The right to privately support charities and causes is part of our nation’s DNA. PUFPF’s policy positions are widely supported by legislators in both parties and a diverse array of causes in the nonprofit community based on long standing Supreme Court precedent and American tradition. Mary’s opinions are a result of hurt feelings because someone dared to question her record as a politician.

Protecting personal privacy is one issue that should unite Americans of all stripes, backgrounds, and beliefs. Even if we disagree with each other on every other issue, we should agree on the right to debate those issues without being canceled.

Groups like IFF exist to be a voice for Idaho citizens. That includes shining a light on the voting records of legislators and explaining how those records align with the values of the organization and its supporters. If Mary considers that to be “harassment,” it’s a good thing she’s no longer an elected official. Idahoans shouldn’t feel sorry for politicians for being held accountable for their actions. What Idahoans should be concerned about is when those policymakers turn around and target us for exercising our First Amendment rights.

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Heather Lauer lives in Hailey, Idaho, and is the CEO of People United for Privacy, a nonprofit that defends the First Amendment rights of all Americans — regardless of their beliefs — to come together in support of their shared values.

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