Making names of campaign donors public doesn't curb free speech

The US Supreme Court got it right in upholding Washington state's law mandating disclosure of campaign donations.


The constitutionally protected right of free speech allows all of us to express our views without government censorship.

It has also been established by the courts that funding political campaigns is a form of protected speech. In a sense, you let your money do the talking.

So when Washington state law requires public disclosure of the names of those who donate to public campaigns is it an abridgement of free- speech rights?

Human Life of Washington challenged the state's campaign disclosure law requirements as a violation of its free-speech rights. The group didn't want to reveal the names of donors to its campaign opposing the assisted-suicide measure on the ballot in 2008. It argued that releasing names could curb speech.

The organization has it wrong.

Free speech does not mean anonymous speech. A key part of free speech is knowing who is speaking

This is why we have long supported laws that require disclosure of campaign donors and the amount of their donations. It's important the public knows who is financing campaigns. This allows voters to consider the motives of donors and use that information as a factor in whether to support or reject the candidate or cause.

Last week the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Human Life challenge of Washington's campaign disclosure law. The high court upheld a ruling last year by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in which it declared disclosure of campaign donors "an important part of our First Amendment tradition."

The ruling serves to ensure Washington's political process will continue to be transparent for the benefit of citizens.

This ruling is one of many over the years that have upheld Washington's laws that seek to keep government open.

"Contrary to ... assertions, these disclosure requirements do not restrict political speech - they merely ensure that the public receives accurate information about who is doing the speaking," state Supreme Court Justice Mary Fairhurst wrote in a majority opinion several years ago.

Knowing how much was donated to a campaign - and particularly who donated it - is an important part of the democratic process.


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