Brown v. Socialist Workers '74 Campaign Comm

In Brown v. Socialist Workers '74 Campaign Comm. (459 U.S. 87 [1982]), the Socialist Workers Party challenged the constitutionality of the disclosure provisions of the Ohio Campaign Expense Reporting Law that required every candidate for political office to file a statement identifying each contributor and each recipient of a disbursement of campaign funds. After a trial, the District Court for the Northern District of Ohio entered a temporary restraining order barring enforcement of the provision. On the record before the District Court was proof of specific incidents of private and government hostility towards the Socialist Workers Party and its members during the four years preceding the trial, including threatening phone calls, hate mail, burning of literature, destruction of property, police harassment and the firing of shots at the Party office. Some members of the Party were fired from their jobs. In addition, the Party presented evidence of massive FBI surveillance and counterintelligence operations against the Party, including attempts to impair its functioning by disseminating negative information, sending anonymous letters to members, supporters and employers. The FBI shared its reports with other Government agencies. Applying a relaxed standard of proof for "minor political parties" enunciated in Buckley v. Valeo (424 US 1 [1976]), the District Court concluded that this overwhelming evidence of governmental and private hostility towards the Socialist Workers Party and its members established a "reasonable probability" that disclosing the names of contributors and recipients will subject them to threats, harassment and reprisals. The Supreme Court agreed that the First Amendment prohibited Ohio from compelling disclosures by the Socialist Workers Party that will subject members who are identified to the reasonable probability of threats, harassment and reprisals. It affirmed the District Court's judgment.