May 1, 2017 Print

Goldwater Institute President Darcy Olsen has been involved in complex public policy issues for decades, but it was only after opposing hundreds of millions in taxpayer subsidies for the hockey team in Glendale, Ariz., that she found out how violent and threatening opponents could be. A new video from People United for Privacy a project made possible by State Policy Network, explains how Olsen lived through a campaign of harassment and intimidation — and demonstrates why it’s so crucial to maintain the privacy of donors to political causes.

“Someone’s going to put a bullseye on your head if our team leaves, lady,” said one of the menacing notes Olsen received. There were many more. “Don’t think you haven’t had private investigators following you around for the last two years,” said another. “You’re all going to pay if you don’t stay out of Glendale’s business. You’re all going to die.”

The Goldwater Institute’s position was simple and compelling: Taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook to subsidize the wealthy owners of a private sports team. Although most people understood the logic of the issue, some opponents went beyond rhetoric to a campaign of abusive scare tactics.

“For those people who opposed it, they very much opposed it, and they were vocal and they became violent,” Olsen recounts in the video. “We had just never seen the kind of anger and hate boiling up and coming at us. It was about 6:00 in the morning, and was carrying my little baby with her bottle, and I opened up the front door to take here where we would watch the sunrise, and I stepped out into a puddle of blood. There was blood and innards just strewn everywhere, and the head of a rabbit at my feet. And then, of course, I realized: Someone has done this on purpose.”

Taking a stand on policy issues can be perilous, so it’s important for people to be able to maintain their anonymity when donating to nonprofit organizations or informational policy campaigns. Calls for public donor reporting have grown in recent years, which would make it much easier to intimidate and threaten the people who support causes they believe in. People United for Privacy is dedicated to showing why an individual right to donor privacy is necessary.

“During the fight for Civil Rights for African Americans, the state of Alabama tried to force the NAACP to report the names and addresses of their supporters to the government,” People United for Privacy explains. “The NAACP knew that if their membership list was made public, those people would be targeted for harassment, intimidation, and even violence. So, they fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won. The Supreme Court said that donations to private organizations like the NAACP—even if they take a position on political issues—can remain private so that people’s safety was protected.

“These same issues still exist today. You may recall last year just after Thanksgiving, a man went to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and went on a shooting rampage. He shot and tragically killed three people and wounded nine others because of his views against Planned Parenthood. If the law in Colorado required the name and addresses of all donors to that Planned Parenthood be made public, that man would have known where others who supported the organization lived in the community and the tragedy could have been much worse.”

Ultimately, the Goldwater Institute’s campaign to prevent massive subsidies for a Glendale hockey team was successful, and taxpayers were spared the indignity of funding somebody else’s profit. Olsen and her team learned a valuable lesson from the process.

“I walked away from this experience with a greater appreciation of the importance of being anonymous — of having your information be private,” Olsen continues. “It is perfectly reasonable to want to have your privacy protected, and not to have to go through the things that I went through, or my colleagues, or people who have had it much worse. You know, I was happy to bear the brunt of all that anger. Now imagine the 5,000 supporter we had, if all their addresses had been public. Do you think the people who were making death threats would have stopped with me? ... The only reason to have someone's personal address and information is to intimidate, and that will silence speech. And that is the foundation of everything we believe in in this country.”