Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Contact: James Bopp, Jr., General Counsel
Phone 812-232-2434; Fax 812-235-3685; [email protected]
James Madison Center for Free Speech Urges the IRS to Stop Gathering the Personal Information of Donors to 501(c)(4)s
Yesterday, the James Madison Center for Free Speech (“JMCFS”) submitted comments to the Internal Revenue Services supporting their proposed regulation that eliminates the requirement that § 501(c)(4) advocacy groups provide the names and addresses of contributors in their annual IRS filings.
JMCFS points out in their comments that federal statutes never required the IRS to gather personal donor information from 501(c)(4) advocacy groups on “Schedule B” to their IRS's annual 990 tax return, and the IRS is now considering eliminating that requirement because the risk of inadvertent disclosure of donors' personal information is outweighed by any benefit to the IRS from having it at hand. The JMCFS urges the IRS to end the requirement, reminding the IRS that in today's climate of political polarization and personal destruction of political opponents, disclosing donors to advocacy groups can lead to mob-driven frenzies that attack donors for simply exercising their First Amendment rights of political speech and association.
In 2009, the JMCFS's General Counsel, James Bopp, Jr., the principal attorney at the Bopp Law Firm, P.C., took the case of ProtectMarriage, the group at the center of the “Prop. 8” maelstrom. Proposition 8 amended the California Constitution to establish marriage between one man and one woman and was supported by ProtectMarriage. Once it was adopted by the people of California in 2008, gay rights advocates launched a vicious campaign of harassment, intimidation and reprisals against Prop 8 supporters.
Gay rights advocates could launch a vicious campaign of reprisal because California law required the public release of the identities, home addresses, and employers of donors to ProtectMarriage, the primary sponsor of Prop. 8. As a result of the release, this personal information was published on numerous websites, including MapQuesting the donors' homes and businesses so that gay rights supporters could attack them there. The result of this vicious campaign was overwhelming evidence, gathered by The Bopp Law Firm, of an ugly backlash that shocked even some unwavering supporters of same-sex marriage.
The documents that were filed in federal court and now with the IRS with JMCFS's comments provide: (1) undisputed testimony and evidence of over 80 previously-unreported instances of harassment, intimidation, reprisals against 58 “John Does”—people allowed to testify anonymously for their own protection—; (2) links to 14 then-contemporary videos reporting and in some cases recording ugly and sometimes violent confrontations and “protests” with Prop 8 supporters, and; (3) 157 contemporarily-published accounts of harassment, intimidation and reprisals directed at supporters of Prop 8. Among the incidents reported in this evidence were death threats, threats of violence, vandalism, threats of destruction of property, arson, threats of arson, angry and lewd protests, intimidating emails and phone calls, mailed envelopes of suspicious powder, entire web sites dedicated to blacklisting supporters of traditional marriage and similar causes, loss of employment and job opportunities, intimidation and reprisals on campus and in the classroom, economic reprisals and demands for “hush money,” and gross expressions of anti-religious bigotry, including vandalism and threats directed at religious institutions and religious adherents. Not surprisingly, this vicious campaign damaged the victims of it and cast a chill over supporters of traditional marriage who might have considered working with ProtectMarriage or other organizations in favor of traditional marriage.
With its IRS comments, the JMCFS has filed the ProtectMarriage evidence in order to establish the grave constitutional injuries that can result from disclosing ordinary citizens' personal information simply because they've donated to a group that supports their own views on an issue of public importance. “The IRS should not gather the personal information of donors to 501(c)(4) advocacy groups, unless there is a compelling government need, which the IRS admits they do not have” says James Bopp, Jr., JMCFS General Counsel. “In today's climate of extreme polarity and easy doxxing, the IRS has no business holding on to personal information about donors to advocacy groups that Congress never required it to gather. The experience of the ProtectMarriage case demonstrates how public disclosure of personal information about supporters of advocacy groups can enable the thuggish to browbeat, punish, and ultimately cow their political opponents into silence.”
The comments are in response to IRS Notice in Docket IRS-2019-0039, and JMCFS's comments and materials available for download below.
James Bopp, Jr. is General Counsel for the James Madison Center for Free Speech and has a national constitutional law practice with The Bopp Law Firm, PC.