Wednesday's Albuquerque Journal ran a story about a group of non-profit organizations who are suing the Secretary of State alleging that the state is curtailing their freedom of speech by requiring them to disclose a list of donors to their various organizations. These are the same non-profit organizations whose political activities were called into question by a number of incumbent Democratic officials who were defeated due to these non-profit's unlawful campaign activities (read it here).
Registering with the state would violate their First Amendment rights, states a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque.The U.S. Supreme Court has held that money is a form of speech. The donations received by these affiliated non-profit political action committees could be and should be considered an expression of support by those who wrote the checks. The question is - does the State of New Mexico have the legal authority to require registration and the disclosure of the names of these political organizations' benefactors? The Secretary of State and the Attorney General seem to think so.
The lawsuit was filed by New Mexico Youth Organized, which is an arm of the Center for Civic Policy; and Southwest Organizing Project.
The groups mailed out glossy fliers to voters earlier this year that cast a negative light on a group of mostly veteran incumbents. All but one legislator was up for re-election, and five of the eight targeted in the fliers were ultimately defeated at the polls.
What concerns us is that should the courts rule in favor of SWOP and NMYO, they would by definition extend rights to non-profit political organizations that the rest of us don't enjoy. Why should a group of political operatives be able to hide their supporters beneath a non-profit corporate shell, when private corporations, grass roots organizations, and individuals are required to register with the state and to report the sources of their funding?
As is often the case, the Southwest Organizing Project and New Mexico Youth Organized are not fighting for free speech they're fighting for extended rights that benefit only their cause. In our opinion, you cannot separate the two. If campaign finance law requires the registration of political organizations and disclosure of donors and assuming that law is indeed constitutional, then it should apply to everyone. If on the other hand, New Mexico law is abridging the free speech rights of non-profit political organizations then it is also abridging the free speech rights of every organization and individual.
(Sidebar)Freedom is an all encompassing concept that abhors special exceptions and favoritism. Each of us is guaranteed the right to free speech in all of its forms. Extended freedoms should not be conveyed upon a group simply because they file some paperwork with the IRS. If state law is a violation of anyone's free speech rights, then it's a violation of everyone's free speech rights. A narrow application of liberty is no different than tyranny.
Don't even get us going on McCain/Feingold. If you want to know why Republicans stayed home this last election, look no further than this misguided attempt at keeping money out of elections. The result has been some of the most expensive elections in history and the rise of 527s.