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Newspaper drunk with power

Dear Editor:

Ken Neubecker has written an absolutely masterful explanation of the solid public policy reasons why not-for-profit groups are not required to disclose their donors’ identities (“Saving Our Streams unfairly singled out,” Letters, Feb. 24).

In addition to what Ken has explained, not-for-profit corporations must adopt a purpose and must state their purposes publicly. They also must limit the portion of their expenditures that is devoted to political activities. This is to ensure that their stated purposes rather than political purposes are indeed their primary endeavors. Moreover, nonprofits typically publicize their events and activities, resulting in a high level of transparency for anyone who really cares to understand a particular not-for-profit organization.

The Aspen Daily News has expressed the editorial viewpoint that the transparency just described is not enough to suit its institutional preference. In an “opinion” piece, the Daily News doesn’t opine on the merits of the aims and activities of one nonprofit, Saving Our Streams – information that is readily available to the Daily News.

Rather, the Daily News leaps into the witch hunt, demanding names of contributors. Ken explained in his excellent letter why that would be a horrible idea, as it could chill the willingness of contributors to support an organization and the willingness of organizations to enter the marketplace of political discourse, undermining our democracy. That is not only Ken’s opinion; legislatures and various courts have recognized the risk to political speech, the most valued variety of speech in America, when too much disclosure is required.

A point not addressed by Ken that is equally important is this: The Daily News’ public-policy hobbyhorse is that nonprofits should have to disclose names of contributors. What if some resident of Telluride believes names should never be disclosed under any circumstances? What if the hobbyhorse of some resident of Aurora is that nonprofits should be able to spend as much as they want on political speech? What if the hobbyhorse of some Durango resident is that nonprofits should be prohibited from spending any amount on political speech?

Now let’s say you are the chairman of the Sierra Club of Colorado, and you want to allocate some funds to fight a bill in Denver that would open public land to oil and gas exploration. You have contributors who are executives of oil companies that would want to explore on that land. Your contributors are fine with your opposition of the bill, but they don’t want their names disclosed because that could impair their chances of promotion in their companies. Are you supposed to go around the state of Colorado, taking the temperature of every person, tallying all the hobbyhorses, and then come up with some course of action that satisfies everyone? According to the Daily News, you would have to do that. Or maybe the Daily News believes it should be the arbiter of public policy for the entire state and that nobody else’s hobbyhorse counts. According to the Daily News’ opinion, it would have to be one or the other. But there is a third way – the American way.

In America we have a legislature and a judiciary. The legislature has enacted laws that tell us what we have to do, and the courts have interpreted some of those laws to sharpen our understanding when they come into conflict with the Constitution or other laws. That saves us from having to dream up some plan that worships at every political altar, that feeds every political hobbyhorse. We just follow the law. Sometimes one person’s interpretation of the law differs from another person’s, but at least they are discussing a known set of rules and court cases written down in the law books not some amorphous, undefined set of concepts springing from the minds of whoever decides to weigh in.

That is the American way. As Neubecker observed, the Daily News benefits hugely from that system – the system that values political speech and protects the right of people to engage in it. The system that attempts to insulate those who would speak their minds from others who would intimidate them, ridicule them and punish them. Perhaps the Daily News ought to sharpen its understanding of the American way and pay it more deference.

Maurice Emmer

Aspen


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