Veterans and other residents of New Mexico are seeing their rights to free speech and free association threatened once again. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is trying to use her position to implement free-speech-killing rules without going through the legislative process. That’s despite Gov. Susana Martinez vetoing a bill with nearly identical language earlier this year.
The proposed rules would force any group, non-profit, or charitable organization that speaks out about issues they feel passionately about to disclose personal information about their supporters. If you contribute to a group you care about, your name, address and other personal information will become public record.
If that seems like a system ripe for abuse and retaliation, that’s because it is.
Make no mistake—these anti-free-speech rules are designed to keep you and other New Mexico residents from standing up for causes you believe in. The rules open the door to discrimination from employers, neighbors, government employees or worse.
Death Threats for Speaking Up
Throughout history, people from across the political spectrum and of all walks of life have been threatened, harassed and intimidated for speaking out for their beliefs. Recently, in Arizona, Goldwater Institute CEO Darcy Olsen received death threats and had her personal address posted online after speaking out about a controversial issue.
“Imagine the 5,000 supporters we had, if all of their addresses had been public. Do you think the people who were making death threats would have stopped with me?” Olsen said. “The only reason to have someone’s personal address and information is to intimidate.”
If these rules are implemented, many New Mexico residents would likely decide to disengage from public discourse for fear of being targeted by people who disagree with them, as has happened in other states.
Bureaucrats Will Have a List
Harassment from fellow citizens poses a potential threat. But if the Internal Revenue Service targeting scandal from several years ago taught us anything, it’s that government agencies are susceptible to corruption and playing partisan games.
With Toulouse Oliver’s rules, New Mexico bureaucrats will have a list of politically active citizens. They will know which causes you care about and what groups you’ve supported.
Activists in Wisconsin know firsthand what lists like this can lead to. A partisan prosecutor launched an open-ended investigation into them, sending armed police to carry out pre-dawn raids and ransack their homes in search of evidence. The investigations ruined their lives and dragged on for years despite the prosecutor never finding any evidence of wrongdoing.
It’s the First Amendment for a Reason
Free speech and free association, and in particular anonymous free speech and free association, have a long tradition in this country. Numerous Founders penned essays and pamphlets in secret, from Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Federalist Papers.
After they gained their independence, the Founders wisely protected both public and anonymous speech from any government interference in the Bill of Rights. Twentieth-century Supreme Court decisions, including the landmark NAACP v. Alabama, built on that tradition.
No one should be forced to endure harassment just because they got involved in a cause they believe in. The more than 170,000 veterans who live in New Mexico fought to defend the right of every American to speak freely. Secretary Toulouse Oliver shouldn’t dishonor their sacrifice by trying to limit that right.