THE VICTIMS OF ‘DARK MONEY’ DISCLOSURE: How Government Reporting Requirements Suppress Speech and Limit Charitable Giving

Anonymous political speech has been essential to democratic discourse since the founding of our republic. 

Ratification of the U.S. Constitution was primarily debated through a series of anonymous papers.  Yet in recent years, anonymous political speech has been under attack by so-called “dark money” critics, who demand that government expose the identities of individuals, businesses, labor unions and nonprofits that spend money to participate in political dialogue. 

Couched as “transparency” measures, “dark money” disclosure mandates are often used as excuses to silence disfavored speech. 

Troublingly, disclosure mandates are sweeping the country in the form of vague and overbroad regulations reaching the activities of 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations – groups that operate in nearly every sector and industry in the United States and represent views across the political and philosophical spectrum.  These mandates have diluted political dialogue, invited harassment and retaliation against speakers, and chilled speech and association. 

Although the Constitution protects political and private associations against compelled disclosure, federal courts have often failed to enforce those protections.  Therefore, liberty advocates should litigate for greater constitutional protection of free speech and association rights.  At the same time, several simple policy reforms can protect nonprofits from efforts to silence opposition and endanger free thought, speech, and association.  

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