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Relating to the reporting of certain contributions and political expenditures by certain persons; adding provisions subject to a criminal penalty.
No significant fiscal implication to the State is anticipated.
HB 37 would make changes to the political reporting requirements in Chapter 254 of the Election Code. Specifically a new subchapter would require a contributions and expenditures report from a person or group that is not a political committee but accepts contributions related to campaign activities. The threshold for when this report would be required is if aggregate contributions to a person or group exceeds $2,000 in a reporting year or exceeds $25,000 in a calendar year. However, this legislation would not require the reporting of contributions that do not relate to a campaign activity.
We oppose HB 37 because the disclosure of an individual’s or group’s campaign expenses and contributions would be a grave infringement on our individual liberty principles. It is important to note that these people or groups that are involved in campaign activities are not political committees. This legislation would create overly burdensome regulations on citizen activists which would make it more difficult for them to address their government for redress of grievances. This could also lead donors of such groups to be opened up to intimidation and bullying by political opponents. Furthermore, this bill provides for a criminal penalty for noncompliance. We do not support criminally penalizing free speech. For these reasons we view this legislation as a violation of our limited government liberty principle. On these grounds we oppose HB 37.
It should be further noted that the modern principles of donor anonymity has a lengthy and solid legal foundation with roots in the civil rights movement. This is ample research connecting the disclosure of donor lists to political bullying and intimidation. The attempt to quell free speech through donor disclosure is not new and it is not unique to Texas. Our state can, and should, do better by our citizens by strengthening rather than disfiguring our free speech protections.
As legislators consider HB 37, we urge them to consider the bill in its larger historical context and to reject any and all attempts to infringe on the liberty of Texans to express their political will without fear of intimidation, coercion, and retribution by the powerful.
As a final thought for consideration on this topic we would like to point out that the Supreme Court noted in Buckley v. Valeo that “Compelled disclosure in itself can seriously infringe on privacy of association and belief guaranteed by the first amendment“. Elsewhere it has been noted that the desire to contribute anonymously to a political organization or campaign “may be motivated by fear of economic or official retaliation”. Retaliation may include social ostracism, economic sanctions, harassment, or violence.