Margie McIntyre was an Ohio mom who opposed an effort by the school system to raise taxes. She handed out leaflets, some of which did not have her name on them, at a public meeting. For this act she was fined $100 by the Ohio Elections Commission in a case that wound up at the Supreme Court. The OEC wasn’t concerned about an onslaught of leafletting moms. It wanted to send a message to others: When the state wants something, don’t get in our way.
McIntyre (who died before winning her case in the high court, in 1995) never intended it, but she was one of the first troops to be attacked in an ongoing and intensifying war by big government and its fanboys to shut up citizens with opposing viewpoints.
As Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel documents in her explosive and essential new book “The Intimidation Game: How the Left Is Silencing Free Speech,” the all-powerful progressive state, frustrated by its inability to persuade majorities of Americans that its policies are wise, is increasingly ruthless about silencing skeptics.
For decades, the Supreme Court was zealously protective of America’s right to speak out, even anonymously. Today, though, the judiciary seems to think the wrong people have opinions. Today they have to be unmasked so that government officials from President Obama on down can use a variety of tactics to muzzle them.
Anonymous political speech has a storied history going back to the founding, when Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” — the single most influential book in American history — was originally published anonymously. Holders of controversial opinions have always had ample reason to fear being crushed by a disapproving government.
In a famous 1958 NAACP case, the high court ruled that the First Amendment can’t function if you fear being destroyed for making your opinions known.
In the 1950s, the NAACP was being hounded by racist Democrats in Alabama. The state Attorney General John Patterson demanded that it hand over a list of its members and donors. NAACP members and donors feared retaliation should their names and addresses be made public; whites had physically assaulted those who joined the Rosa Parks-inspired boycott of the segregated bus system in Montgomery.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously against Alabama, stating that liberty could be undone by “compelled disclosure” of the names and that “revelation of the identity of its rank-and-file members has exposed these members to economic reprisal, loss of employment, threat of physical coercion and other manifestations of public hostility.”
Requiring members’ names to be published could “induce members to withdraw from the association and dissuade others from joining it because of fear of exposure.”
Sounding a similar note in the case of the Ohio mom in 1995, Justice John Paul Stevens ruled, “The interest in having anonymous works enter the marketplace of ideas unquestionably outweighs any public interest in requiring disclosure.”
Today, the intimidation game has evolved. President Obama pushes for more and more donor-disclosure laws, knowing that his minions will bombard those who donate to right-leaning groups.
In 2012, Obama himself, through his campaign website, harassed businessman Frank VanderSloot, who had made a legal donation to a Mitt Romney-supporting PAC. Obama’s site denounced eight men including VanderSloot, who had been accused of no wrongdoing, for having “less-than-reputable records” and said “quite a few” of the targets had been “on the wrong side of the law.”
Left-wing journalists and activists heeded the call and set out to destroy VanderSloot and his business (nutrition and cleaning products).
A similar campaign took aim at Target for making a campaign donation to a pro-business group that in turn supported a gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota.
Activists denounced the candidate for being anti-gay, though he held the same position on gay marriage that Hillary Clinton and Obama held at the time. Having learned his lesson, Target’s CEO fitted a gag around his own mouth: He said the company would no longer give to any trade association that spent such money on campaign activities.
When it comes to small groups, Obama’s government is even more shameless about using its many weapons to shut them up.
Immediately after founding two conservative nonprofits, Houston manufacturer Catherine Engelbrecht found herself audited twice by the IRS, contacted six times by the FBI and audited by both the ATF and OSHA. Meanwhile the IRS deluged her with ridiculously broad, intrusive document requests as it delayed granting her routine tax-exempt status.
Americans should be free to support whatever political groups speak for them without fear of reprisals. Today the left calls anonymous donations “dark money” and demands more transparency laws. What we need instead are more shield laws. The Democrats who run the administrative state may have different opponents than the Democrats who ran Alabama in the 1950s, but they have the same purpose: Instill fear in the other side. In the words of Sen. Chuck Schumer when he endorsed a draconian disclosure law, the object was a “deterrent effect” on speech, to make opponents of Democratic policies “think twice.”