On March 17, the Sun-Times published an editorial in support of Democrat Senator Don Harmon’s efforts to infringe on the First Amendment rights of private citizens. Senator Harmon has introduced legislation that would force nonprofits to disclose their donors to rid campaigns of “Dark Money.”

To illustrate their point, the Sun-Times stated that the Illinois Opportunity Project (or IOP) used “Dark Money” to support candidates such as Ken Dunkin, a former Democrat State Representative who – because he stood up for working families –  ran afoul of Mike Madigan and lost his seat in a Madigan funded primary race.

The Sun-Times opined “When campaign donations are secret, voters don’t know if elected officials are putting the electorate first or simply paying back big donors. That’s not healthy for democracy.”

How high-minded. And how preposterously (and perhaps knowingly) false.

The Illinois Opportunity Project’s principal mission is to advocate for and educate the public on free market policy. We raise money from donors to support this principal mission. We do not raise money to support candidates.

Consequently, our donors are not making political contributions to a political candidate. They are supporting a cause. And since everyone has the right to support causes they believe in privately and without fear of harassment, intimidation or reprisal, the Illinois Opportunity Project is not required by law to disclose our donors.

Our donors – like anyone who uses their constitutional rights to support a cause – aren’t “Dark”, they’re free.

This sound public policy has its roots in the fight for equality in the segregated South of the 1950s. In NAACP v. Alabama, the United States Supreme Court recognized the importance of donor privacy during the Jim Crow era, when the State of Alabama tried to force the NAACP to reveal its members’ names and addresses.

The state knew that exposing this information would subject the NAACP’s supporters to harassment, intimidation, or even violence, and would have subjected any businesses they owned to boycotts. Fortunately, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the state couldn’t do this because it would prevent those people from exercising their right to freely associate to advance their beliefs. 

Anonymity protects people from harassment and intimidation. And by extension, it protects our right to hear and consider the widest variety of ideas and viewpoints. Regardless of whether those viewpoints come from the left or the right.

If the Sun-Times and Harmon have their way, your donation to Planned Parenthood to support abortion rights will be on a list for anyone to see. Your neighbors and your employers will be able to Google you to find out if you send money to the Sierra Club.

Moreover, federal law permits the Illinois Opportunity Project to use its general funds to support candidates. And we are subject to the same state campaign finance law disclosure requirements as other political donors – individual, corporate or otherwise. That’s how the Sun-Times knows we donated to Mr. Dunkin’s campaign. Voters know this too and thus are free to use that information to determine whether to support Mr. Dunkin or not.

As for IOP’s donors, they didn’t intersect with Mr. Dunkin at all. They didn’t give IOP money to support him and they had no input over the decision to do so. For his part, Mr. Dunkin – like the rest of the public – doesn’t know who our donors are.

So Mr. Dunkin is going to have a hard time “paying back” those donors – to use the Sun-Times’ baseless accusation. And besides that, even if inclined, why would he? Those donors didn’t give him a campaign contribution, the Illinois Opportunity Project did.

In the end, the “Dark Money” pejorative leveled by Senator Harmon and the Sun-Times is simply cover designed to limit political competition and protect Illinois’ failed Democrat ruling class. Illinois Democrats cannot win on the merit of their ideas and the Sun-Times needs to appeal to the majority view of its ever-shrinking reader base to survive. Thus, they seek to publicly expose their opposition so they can intimidate them into silence.

Don’t let them get away with it. Or it’s only a matter of time before they call you to account for the things you believe in.

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