The Center for Economic Accountability

Donor Privacy Policy

Last Updated: August 14, 2019

All of us at The Center for Economic Accountability (CEA) are grateful for the generous support of the individuals and institutions that make our work possible.

Our policy is to protect the privacy of our donors to the fullest extent allowed by law, unless we have received the specific permission of a donor to publicize their support.

Here’s why we’ve taken this position:

As an organization, we have a philosophical foundation in individual liberty, free markets, limited government and the rule of law. That not only drives our organizational mission and vision, but it also informs our institutional beliefs and practices on matters of free speech and the individual’s relationship to government.

The Constitution guarantees Americans’ rights to free speech and freedom of association. We believe this means that Americans have the implicit right to financially support the causes of their choice without being forced by the government to publicize that support.

In this, we follow in the footsteps of some of the most important movements for social change in American history.

Organizations that try to change the world for the better often face threats to their donors and supporters from self-interested incumbent power structures. In the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case on this topic, NAACP vs. Alabama, Justice Harlan wrote, “It is beyond debate that freedom to engage in association for the advancement of beliefs and ideas is an inseparable aspect of the ‘liberty’ assured by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which embraces freedom of speech,” and that Alabama’s effort to force the NAACP to release its donor lists to government officials who opposed the civil rights movement would have a “deterrent effect on the free enjoyment of the right.”

Of course, the CEA’s supporters would not face the immediate threat to their very lives that the NAACP’s donors did in Jim Crow-era Alabama were their support publicized. However, our donors include individuals and organizations whose support of our efforts to reform state and local economic development programs could open them to political and economic retribution from the politicians, bureaucrats and business interests that benefit from the status quo, just as the NAACP’s donors also faced what Justice Harlan recognized was a very meaningful threat of, “economic reprisal, loss of employment…and other manifestations of public hostility” in addition to physical harm.

For at least some of our donors, these potential economic and reputational costs of supporting us would be too high to justify if that support were to be publicized; not through any fault of their own but rather due to the political and financial self-interest of the powerful forces that benefit from the economic development industry status quo. This includes municipal employees whose employment could be put at risk, vendors to corporations that receive economic development incentives and others.

Our donor privacy policy attempts to give our supporters the ability to exercise their rights to free speech and free association without fear of retribution by the powerful interests that reside in the toxic intersection of big business and big government. In this, we follow Justice Harlan’s maxim for a unanimous Supreme Court that, “Inviolability of privacy in group association may in many circumstances be indispensable to preservation of freedom of association, particularly where a group espouses dissident beliefs.”

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