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Letter: The right to not disclose donations

In a Feb. 20 commentary in the West Central Tribune, Rep. Paul Thissen advocates the disclosure of donor lists of social welfare and trade organizations that even briefly promote political goals.

In a Feb. 20 commentary in the West Central Tribune, Rep. Paul Thissen advocates the disclosure of donor lists of social welfare and trade organizations that even briefly promote political goals.

The DISCLOSE Act is touted as a tool to expose which groups are behind political ads, but it is not that simple.

Although Thissen talks of ordinary Minnesotans benefiting from the disclosure of organizational information, he neglects to take into account the hardship that public disclosure of individual, personal information may cause for ordinary Minnesotans who contribute to various, generally non-election, causes.

Such disclosure would eliminate the ability for many ordinary Minnesotans to support those causes, because it could negatively impact their employment, social, and living situations. They would be open to harassment. It could risk their safety.

For the same reasons, the mandatory disclosure of individual donor information would be a major blow to free speech. If an organization’s main focus is a non-election issue, and if members wish to pool their resources to push for a political outcome that would positively affect their main cause, it is nothing more than ordinary Minnesotans exercising their right to free speech.

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Their right to anonymous free speech, as affirmed by the Supreme Court’s 1995 ruling in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, which states that, “Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority… It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation… at the hand of an intolerant society.”

Thissen writes, “If you believe in something, you should be willing to stand up and say it publicly.” It’s good if he feels confident that he can do so, concerning every issue, without repercussion. It’s also good that we live in a democratic republic, so that even if his personal opinion is the majority opinion, those who are in different situations can’t be bullied into silence.

Michelle Thompson

Willmar

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