Free Speech

Chilling Effect: Donor Disclosure, Hackers, and the Freedom Convoy

The disclosure of donor information, even if inadvertent or accidental, chills speech and public participation in policy debates. Take what happened last week to Americans who supported the Freedom Convoy in Canada, as an example.

After GoFundMe decided to kowtow to Canadian officials and not distribute millions of dollars donated in support of the Freedom Convoy in Ottawa, alternative charity platform GiveSendGo promised to respect donors’ intent. And donors flocked to the site, eager to help promote messages of individual liberty and choice over government mandates.

Unfortunately, hackers opposed to the Freedom Convoy’s message and donors’ support for it improperly accessed GiveSendGo and obtained highly confidential information about donors, including their names, emails addresses, and amounts donated. The hackers then provided this information to “journalists.”  Using the leaked donor information, reporters at legacy media outlets like The Washington Post and The Salt Lake Tribune contacted small dollar donors to the trucker convoy.

It is hard to view the legacy media’s efforts as anything but an attempt to intimidate donors wanting to support the Canadian convoy. The text of emails provided to other journalists sought information from people who donated $40 or $50, not $40,000 or $50,000. By targeting low dollar-value donors, those people – and others in similar circumstances – will think twice before donating to a similar campaign. And that is the point: cause people with which one disagrees ideologically to think twice before supporting a political movement different from the approved narrative.

This is not a partisan issue. The lack of partisanship shows at nearly every turn, whether it is the  variety of organizations, including ALEC, that filed amicus briefs in the AFPF v. Bonta Supreme Court case, or Senator Ted Cruz’s retweet of Rep. Ilhan Omar condemning recent donor intimidation tactics. Without partisanship as a motivating factor, the real issue with disclosure – compelled or inadvertent – is the motive and intent of those who lack tolerance or respect for speech with which they disagree.

The Washington Post’s and The Salt Lake Tribune’s efforts to reach out to low dollar-value donors will have a chilling effect on speech and public participation, as they likely intended. As highlighted in recent testimony ALEC submitted to the Pennsylvania State Government Committee, disclosure of donor information, whether it be compelled by the government or hacked and leaked, causes people to think twice before exercising their rights to speak or support organizations with which they agree.

The Supreme Court decision in AFPF v. Bonta strengthened some First Amendment protections for donors and associations, but policymakers can do better. The hack of GiveSendGo emphasizes the need for the private sector to better anticipate bad actors seeking to gain unauthorized access to information for politically motivated purposes. When policymakers seek to protect confidential information from compelled or inadvertent disclosure, people are much freer to participate in public policy debates and support the causes with which they agree.

ALEC’s Statement of Principles on Philanthropic Freedom, Resolution in Support of Nonprofit Donor Privacy, and the Donor Disclosure Legislative Toolkit are all resources which can be used to help identify and address attacks on associational privacy in your state.

In Depth: Free Speech

Freedom of speech is paramount for the American system of government and American culture. Born from revolution, American society has been created, evolved and progressed based in part, on the First Amendment. More specifically, free speech allows individual’s to use their own voice to ensure “We the People” would control…

+ Free Speech In Depth