The Importance of Donor Free Speech

All Americans have the right to support causes they believe in without fear of harassment, intimidation, or “cancellation.” Yet a new law in Alaska would diminish the free speech rights of many Alaskans and put them at risk of exactly those things. This law, enacted via voter initiative during the November 2020 election, violates Alaskans’ First Amendment rights to political association and free speech.

Despite the fact that political candidates and campaigns in Alaska are already required to report all their donations, information that is publicly available, this new law violates free speech principles in three primary ways. First, the new law requires donors themselves to report their donations to the government, which leads to duplicative reporting. Why should government unnecessarily burden donors with administrative tasks?

Political ads in Alaska currently have disclaimer requirements about who donated to the issue, organization, or person. But in a second violation of free speech, the new law requires far-more-extensive disclaimers — to the degree that observers might think an ad’s space or airtime is actually about the disclaimer rather than the issue or candidate. Why are we judging issues by the people who donate to them instead of their merits?

Lastly, the new provisions require a political donation genealogy — the disclosure of secondary and tertiary donors. Donors to donors!

At the national level, cancellation for political donations has become a common danger. In early 2021, followers of a popular parenting/sleep “influencer” on social media — who runs a business giving infant sleep advice to parents — learned that she and her husband had donated about $2,000 to a presidential campaign and a super PAC between 2016 and 2019. The backlash from followers, customers, and other parenting influencers was loud and demeaning. In fact, the influencer’s personal address was shared to hundreds of thousands online, and her business services were stolen by previous customers.

In today’s political culture, apparently, you cannot give infant sleep advice after having privately supported the wrong political candidates. As cancellation becomes more rampant, donors may stop giving altogether for fear of their businesses and homes being violated. This prevents any candidates who are unable to self-fund their campaigns, or who do not explicitly represent insulated special interests, from running and representing groups that deserve representation. It also quashes the rights to freedom of speech and association of donors.

While some level of political donor transparency may play a role in clean elections and an informed citizenry, a lack of citizen privacy does not. Alaskans have the right to support causes they believe in without fear of intimidation and cancellation. Changing our laws to invade people’s privacy and chill their participation in public life is not the way our democracy should operate. We need transparency from government but free speech and privacy for individuals.

Citizens expect transparency from government because government works for and is funded by the people, but government should not invade Alaskans’ privacy when it can lead to the stifling of free speech. As a society, we do not want or need government to have access to information about our constitutionally protected activities and beliefs. Instead, we must protect the ability of Alaskans to support each other and the causes we believe in.

Instead of curtailing Alaskans’ enthusiasm for political engagement, the state should protect our free speech and privacy. Alaskans should not be burdened with duplicative administrative tasks or subjected to ads about donations rather than issues. We should value and protect citizens’ free speech rather than freeze it.