On February 7, 2020, James Bopp, Jr., General Counsel for the James Madison Center for Free Speech (“JMCFS”), will testify at the Internal Revenue Service’s public hearing on its proposed regulation eliminating the requirement that § 501(c)(4) advocacy groups provide the names and addresses of contributors in their annual IRS filings.
Neither Congress nor the IRS has ever affirmed the need for collecting this personal information, and having it presents an unnecessary risk of disclosure. Mr. Bopp will testify of his experience with the results of disclosing the personal information of contributors to a political cause—shocking threats, harassment, and reprisals aimed at intimidating the supporters from associating with advocacy groups in violation of their First Amendment rights.
In 2009, as the principal attorney at the Bopp Law Firm, P.C., Mr. Bopp took the case of ProtectMarriage.com, the advocacy group at the center of the maelstrom over “Prop. 8,” the amendment to the California Constitution to establish marriage between one man and one woman. Gay-rights advocates used the personal information publicly provided under California law to launch a vicious campaign of harassment, intimidation and reprisals against its supporters.
As a result of the release, personal information was published on websites, including maps showing the donors’ homes and businesses, facilitating gay rights supporters’ attacks. Mr. Bopp’s firm gathered overwhelming evidence of the ugly backlash.
JMCFS has filed with the IRS documents that were filed in federal court in the Prop. 8 case providing: (1) undisputed testimony and evidence of over 80 instances of harassment, intimidation, and reprisals against 58 “John Does”—people allowed to testify anonymously for their own protection; (2) links to 14 videos reporting and in some cases recording ugly and sometimes violent confrontations and “protests” with Prop. 8 supporters; and (3) 157 contemporaneously published accounts of harassment, intimidation and reprisals directed at supporters of Prop 8.
California’s required release of personal information led directly to 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.
This vicious campaign cast a chill over supporters and would-be supporters of a 501(c)(4) organization advocating a position on an important and fundamental political and social cause. And as Mr. Bopp will testify, this is a violation of the First Amendment right to speech and association. The ProtectMarriage.com evidence compellingly establishes 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 admits that it has no compelling need for the personal information of donors to 501(c)(4) advocacy groups,” says Mr. Bopp. “Today, more than ever, the IRS has no business holding on to personal information about donors to advocacy groups that Congress never required it to gather. There’s no doubt that 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. There’s no need for the government to have the information, and there’s a clear danger of fundamental First Amendment injury in its release.”