Imagine that you had to send a government official a note each time you did something political, whether it be attending a rally, volunteering on a campaign, posting to a blog or even conversing with friends over drinks. Now imagine that this information would be made public by the government. Would your conversations with friends change? Would your other political activities change? For many of us, the answer would be yes.
Of course, in most cases you can volunteer on a political campaign without registering with the government. You can talk with friends without registering with the government. But when you decide to spend money on politics, whether by contributing to a candidate or a group or even collaborating with like-minded individuals on political activities, everything changes. You often are required to file complicated forms with the government. Your personal information, including your home address and employer, is likely to be posted on the Internet in handy searchable databases. The release of this information has led to lost jobs, vandalism and even violence.
You might think there would be a good reason for collecting this information, but in the case of ballot issues, the justification is surprisingly thin. In the case of contributions to the campaigns of candidates for office, the U.S. Supreme Court has determined that the fear of actual or perceived corruption justifies the disclosure of contributions to candidate campaigns. In the case of ballot issue campaigns, however, the “candidate” is a policy position, and no such anti-corruption rationale exists.
Arlington, Va.— Should Mississippi citizens need to get the government’s permission before speaking about political issues with their neighbors and friends? That is the question to be answered by a First Amendment lawsuit filed this morning in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi by five Mississippi citizens and the Institute for…