For Immediate Release: 5/25/2017
Contact: Zachary Janowski
Mobile: (860) 384-5777
Email: Zach@YankeeInstitute.org

Connecticut House passes bill attacking First Amendment rights
Lawmakers threaten the privacy of their constituents

May 25 – Earlier today, lawmakers in the Connecticut House of Representatives passed House Bill 5589, putting politics before the privacy and free speech rights of their neighbors, constituents and fellow Connecticut residents.

This attack on all of our First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly cannot be allowed to pass the Senate.

This bill is designed to chill political debate and silence opposition by publicizing the names and personal information of people in Connecticut who support causes they believe in. This government invasion of privacy threatens to expose private individuals to threats, harassment and intimidation.

“Each citizen of Connecticut — whatever his or her views — has a right to support causes she or he believes in without fear of political reprisal or harassment,” said Yankee Institute President Carol Platt Liebau. “Why should the state of Connecticut expose supporters of Sandy Hook Promise, Planned Parenthood, the Family Institute of Connecticut or any other advocacy group to the threat of intimidation or harm by publishing their names and addresses online?”

This overly complex law arbitrarily limits the amount that individuals can donate to the cause of their choice before they risk exposure by their own government.

Under the pretext of “getting money out of politics,” some lawmakers are prepared to recklessly deliver the names and addresses of their own constituents to extremists and bullies bent on silencing those with whom they disagree.

Suzanne Bates, Policy Director for Yankee Institute, says today’s political climate is fostering more outrage and that rage is being channeled toward private citizens.

“Over the past few years, we have seen far too many instances of individuals being targeted for their political beliefs by protesters, politicians and zealous conspiracy theorists. This bill would open up every person who contributes an arbitrary amount of money to a nonprofit organization to that very same treatment.”

“Many questions remain about this legislation — not least about its constitutionality,” Liebau said. “They should be fully answered before this speech-chilling law advances further.”

With a $5 billion budget deficit, non-existent job growth and the potential for thousands of state employee layoffs and cuts to services, Connecticut lawmakers have better things to do than spend time on a complicated and unnecessary bill.

The Hartford-based Yankee Institute for Public Policy works to transform Connecticut into a place where everyone is free to succeed.

Attachment: Carol Platt Liebau’s April 18 letter to members of the House

Subject: A serious threat to debate

Dear Representative,

Thank you for your willingness to step forward and serve — we know it is not easy to stand in the public square and be held accountable for your positions on tough issues.

That’s especially true today. A recent poll by Quinnipiac University found that 63 percent of Americans believe hatred is on the rise on our country. At Yankee, we see it every day in social media comments, emails and other contacts that frequently take the discussion one step (or more!) too far. Aside from the interpersonal unpleasantness inherent in this behavior, perhaps its worst effect is that it discourages so many good people from engaging in civic discourse.

I am writing to urge you to oppose a bill that’s before you now that likewise presents a serious threat to the free exchange of ideas in our state. House Bill 5589 seeks to insert state government between people and the causes they support. Not only that, it requires state government to publish an online database identifying people, the cause(s) they support, and where they live.

That’s a bad idea. Supporters of Sandy Hook Promise should be able to support their cause without Second Amendment activists knowing their address — just as Planned Parenthood’s donors shouldn’t have to list their names on a public database just because they wish to donate to that group.

One of the fundamental principles that’s made America great is the understanding that the answer to controversial speech is not silence, but more speech.

The First Amendment protects our ability to take positions on the issues — publicly or privately — and to participate in groups that do the same. That’s how we solve disputes: by airing them out, letting all sides be heard, and then deciding. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. We can always debate again. And again. And again.

House Bill 5589 stands in direct opposition to this tradition. It chills robust debate and intimidates private citizens from participating, by raising legitimate fears that they will face reprisals as a result. In fact, The Supreme Court has recognized the importance donor privacy plays in protecting private individuals from organized harassment and intimidation, rejecting efforts to obtain the names of the NAACP’s donors during the civil rights era.

The Yankee Institute doesn’t take a position on guns, abortion or immigration. But if this legislation passes, we’ll be able to look up where every private individual who donates stands. And so will everyone else.

We’re leaders in government transparency, publishing the pensions and salaries of all state employees at CTSunlight.org. We’ll never back down when it comes to shining a light on how government works. But transparency is for government. Privacy is for people. What could possibly be gained from learning who gives to Planned Parenthood or the Connecticut Citizens Defense League? We know where these groups stand. Their views are no secret and no donation is likely to change their positions.

A database with the names and addresses of private individuals who support various controversial causes has value for no one other than those who prefer intimidation to debate. And once Connecticut collects and publishes this information, it becomes very difficult to undo. Even those who subsequently change their minds about an issue will have a donation history that follows them for the rest of their lives. Does that really seem right?

Because of how vague the bill’s language is, it is unclear how or if this legislation would directly affect the Yankee Institute. Even if we are immune, we are so convinced that it will diminish both the content and the quality of political debate in Connecticut that we strongly oppose it. Likewise, we respectfully urge you to stand against House Bill 5589 on principle.

As always, I invite you to reach out to me with any concerns that may lead you to support the concept behind this bill. Please feel free either to contact me directly or to speak with any member of the Yankee team.

Many thanks for your consideration.

Best regards,

Carol Platt Liebau

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