PUFP Statement on U.S. House Administration Committee Hearing on the ACE Act’s Privacy Protections

May 11, 2023

People United for Privacy Vice President Matt Nese submitted a statement for the record to the U.S. House Committee on House Administration in connection with the May 11 hearing examining “American Confidence in Elections: Protecting Political Speech.”

“Freedom of speech is essential for Americans to have confidence in our elections, and privacy is just as essential to protect Americans’ willingness to exercise their First Amendment rights,” Nese explained. “We cannot have a government of, by, and for the people if the people are not free to speak to each other and the public about the government. Our pervasive cancel culture and attacks on nonprofit donor privacy represent one of the most serious threats to free speech and democracy today.”

The American Confidence in Elections (ACE) Act, first introduced last Congress as H.R. 8528, touches on a wide range of election, free speech, and privacy-related issues. PUFP’s statement supports four provisions in the ACE Act that specifically protect Americans against having their support for nonprofit causes forcibly disclosed to the government or the public. These provisions, included in the previous version of the ACE Act, are the Speech Privacy Act of 2022, Don’t Weaponize the IRS Act, IRS Protections, and SEC Protections.

In September 2022, a coalition of nearly 70 nonprofits signed a letter to House leaders organized by People United for Privacy in support of the ACE Act’s strong protections for citizen privacy.

“The free speech provisions in the ACE Act would defend the vital role nonprofit organizations serve in encouraging free speech and the free exchange of ideas. Privately supporting causes – and the organizations advancing those causes – is a fundamental freedom protected by the First Amendment,” the letter noted. “These reforms will protect millions of Americans across the country, who cherish and rely on the right to privately support causes they believe in without fear of harassment and intimidation, as well as the diverse causes they support, including the undersigned individuals and organizations.”

One such reform, the Speech Privacy Act of 2022, safeguards Americans’ freedom to join together with their fellow citizens in support of a cause. It empowers all Americans to support the nonprofits of their choice without looking over their shoulder to scan for threats on the horizon. It also protects nonprofit groups that speak about public policy from having their members targeted for retaliation by government officials or groups that oppose their views. Since 2018, 17 states have acted to pass such protections, frequently with bipartisan support.

As Nese explains, “state privacy protection legislation has been signed into law by both Republican and Democratic governors and been sponsored by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers. Measures have passed unanimously in both Democratic-controlled (Virginia) and Republican-controlled (Indiana) legislative chambers and by voice vote. (New Hampshire). The Alabama law passed both chambers of the Legislature unanimously. These protections have been supported by groups as diverse as state right to life organizations and Planned Parenthood chapters, chambers of commerce and labor unions, and organizations on both sides of debates about our civil liberties. If there’s one issue everyone can agree on in our divided age, it’s the importance of protecting the privacy of Americans who support nonprofit causes.”

The hearing, which will focus on the ACE Act’s protections for free speech and donor privacy, comes one day after the 10-year anniversary of the revelation of the IRS targeting scandal. In that shameful debacle, IRS bureaucrats targeted nonprofits with right-of-center views and subjected them to baseless investigations, intrusive questioning, including about their supporters, and lengthy delays processing routine paperwork. The ACE Act aims to prevent future targeting by codifying recent regulatory reforms promoting personal privacy at the agency and limiting the IRS’s power to write speech-chilling rules for nonprofits.

“Some politicians and activists have pushed the IRS to regulate more, not less, when it comes to nonprofits that speak out about public policy and the views and actions of elected officials,” Nese observed in an article for Reason. “They forget that campaigns are regulated by the Federal Election Commission, a bipartisan agency carefully designed to navigate the complex political and constitutional questions posed by government regulation of speech and advocacy. The IRS is a tax collection agency under the president’s control with no authority to police campaign finance rules and no particular expertise in the First Amendment.”

PUFP’s statement for the record emphasizes that all Americans – regardless of their beliefs – have the right to support causes they believe in without fear of harassment or intimidation. It urges the Committee on House Administration to support the citizen privacy provisions in the ACE Act to fight back against the rising trends of political harassment and cancel culture.

“Laws that invade Americans’ privacy and chill their participation in public life do not belong in any democracy, let alone the United States. Due to today’s highly charged political climate, Americans are increasingly concerned about their private giving being made public and weaponized against them by those who disagree with their views. Unfortunately, their concerns are well-founded, thanks to a growing push for unconstitutional and harmful disclosures in Congress, at federal agencies, and in states around the country. Efforts to force nonprofits to disclose their membership or donor information are among today’s leading threats to the First Amendment rights to freely speak, publish, and support groups that advocate for causes supported by Americans across the country and the ideological spectrum.

Nonprofit organizations are forces for good and have long played a role in educating Americans and policymakers about complex issues. Nonprofits also serve as a shield for people who are uncomfortable or unable to speak publicly about an issue. While some donors may prefer their name to be listed publicly as a supporter of a cause, many prefer to keep their donations private due to religious reasons. Others fear such attention because they value their privacy or are worried about being targeted by those that might oppose an organization they support.”

To read PUFP’s full statement, click here, or go to: https://unitedforprivacy.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/2023-05-11_PUFP-Letter_US_House-Administration-Committee_ACE-Act-Speech-and-Privacy-Hearing.pdf.