A politician gets heat in the media over a non-profit entity that helps promote his agenda. This politician could take responsibility, defend the situation, or disown it and urge it to be shut down.

Or… they could blame “the system”, point the finger, and push sweeping new laws to destroy free speech in the state for citizen groups and advocacy organizations.

Of course, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy chose the latter option.

After facing critical stories about a non-profit run by Murphy allies, the governor’s efforts to make this about state law, rather than his personal situation, have led to legislation that would drastically limit free speech of New Jerseyans and citizen-groups.

The current front-running legislation is Assembly Bill 1524 (Senate Bill 1500), which sailed through committee unanimously (why the heck are any Republicans supporting this?). However, it is no sure thing that this is the legislation that leaders back for a vote.

The bill would demand donor disclosure by political action groups (even though 527 groups already have to report donors to the IRS), and non-profit advocacy organizations – of course, unions are exempt.

This would create a chilling effect on free speech, as contributors to organizations lose their right to privacy and become subject to political retribution, harassment, and more. In today’s climate of mobs showing up to people’s houses, the risk here should be more clear than ever. Further, these new restrictions would make it next-to-impossible for the average person to start an advocacy organization.

A-1524 would likely be unconstitutional as well since it goes after more than just speech intended to influence a vote within an election timeframe. Fighting a protracted court battle to silence speech would be a waste of state resources.

Further, Murphy’s non-profit may be new and tied to his agenda, but passing laws to stop or limit these non-profits would negatively impact elected officials who work for legitimate non-profit organizations with preexisting agendas.

The landmark Supreme Court case that upheld the right to privacy for donors to non-profits was Alabama v. NAACP, a case that shows how high the takes can be when states attack privacy rights.

It’s for good reason that there is a broad coalition from across the political spectrum, and covering a variety of issues that opposes the push for these anti-free speech policies.

New Jersey needs more debate and advocacy, not less. Trenton has been steering the state in the wrong direction of late, that may make it tempting to politicians to shut down people who speak out on their failures, but that doesn’t make it right.