1982 December 8

Confidentiality of Political Campaign Contributors Upheld


The Supreme Court on this day, in Brown v. Socialist Workers Party, upheld the right of the Socialist Workers Party not to disclose the names and addresses of its campaign contributors as required by the Ohio Campaign Expense Reporting Law. The Court held that the First Amendment protects the disclosure of information about the supporters of minority political parties when there is a “reasonable probability of threats, harassment, or reprisals” against those individuals.

The Supreme Court had previously upheld the confidentiality of membership lists of minority organizations in the case of NAACP v. Alabama on June 30, 1958. In that landmark decision, the Supreme Court established a freedom of association under the First Amendment. The Alabama law in question was directed at the NAACP and was a clear effort to restrict civil rights activity. As the Court explained, release of the NAACP membership list would have exposed members to harassment and intimidation.

The Court:The First Amendment prohibits a State from compelling disclosures by a minor political party that will subject those persons identified to the reasonable probability of threats, harassment, or reprisals. Buckley v. Valeo. Moreover, minor parties must be allowed sufficient flexibility in the proof of injury. Ibid. These principles for safeguarding the First Amendment interests of minor parties and their members and supporters apply not only to the compelled disclosure of campaign contributors but also to the compelled disclosure of recipients of campaign disbursements.” 

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