PUFP Cautions Congress Against Threatening Americans’ Privacy Rights Over Foreign Influence Allegations

December 13, 2023 | Alex Baiocco

In a statement to members of the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight, People United for Privacy (PUFP) urged Congress not to sacrifice Americans’ free speech and privacy rights in an attempt to address allegations of foreign influence in elections.

PUFP’s statement explains that rushing to respond to unfounded hysteria with new legislation or regulations could result in serious harm to the First Amendment and discourage Americans from participating in important policy debates. In recent years, members of both political parties have seized on fears of foreign influence in elections as a pretense for pursuing broader and unrelated political goals. Allegations of foreigners covertly donating to nonprofits to fund political advocacy are overblown, and a robust framework of laws and regulations already prohibits and prevents foreign funding of election activity.

“We must not let anxieties about nefarious actions by China, Iran, Russia, or any other rogue state actor scare Congress into passing laws that unduly burden the rights of Americans to support causes they believe in securely and privately. This is especially true in the present circumstance, where evidence of an actual problem is lacking and confidence in a proposed solution to deter or eliminate foreign influence is low,” wrote PUFP CEO Heather Lauer and Vice President Matt Nese.

The statement was submitted for the hearing record ahead of the Subcommittee’s December 13, 2023 hearing on the “Growth of the Tax-Exempt Sector and the Impact on the American Political Landscape.” This hearing follows a Request for Information (RFI) about the alleged improper political activities of nonprofit organizations issued by Republican leaders of the full House Ways and Means Committee on August 14. PUFP also responded to the RFI, urging Congress not to grant the IRS new powers to police the political speech of nonprofits. PUFP’s latest statement to the Oversight Subcommittee builds upon our earlier comments to the full House Ways and Means Committee.

“Enforcing regulations on speech and advocacy is inherently complex and often involves making difficult determinations along unclear lines. For example, to enforce current political speech regulations, the IRS relies on a multi-step ‘facts and circumstances’ test that leaves ample room for interpretation. The vague nature of such regulations not only makes it difficult for groups to have a clear understanding of regulatory lines but also leaves room for biased or uneven enforcement,” the statement to the Subcommittee explains.

Unfortunately, congressional attention on nonprofit advocacy efforts has historically been marked by political interest in hampering the activity of particular groups. PUFP’s comments encourage Congress to consider the long-term impact on nonprofits and American donors across the ideological spectrum before pursuing legislation that grants more power to federal bureaucrats within the highly sensitive realm of speech and association rights.

“Any further policing of foreign donations to charities must be undertaken with extreme caution to prevent infringements on the rights of American donors to support American nonprofits,” Lauer and Nese warn.

To read the full statement, click here, or go to: https://unitedforprivacy.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/2023-12-13_PUFP-Letter_US_House-Ways-And-Means-Oversight-Subcommittee_Protecting-Nonprofit-Donor-Privacy.pdf.