Today, along with eleven other free expression groups, NCAC issued a letter to two congressional committees regarding their request to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen for Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) of twenty groups that the committees alleged had supported or funded recent college protests. 

NCAC’s deep concern stems from both the breadth of the committees’ requests for records (20 organizations, without any factual specifics about why they were selected), and that the Committees’ target is protest activity. Both the advocacy these groups engage in and the act of protest on college campuses are fully protected by the First Amendment. This sweeping request appears targeted entirely at the perceived political viewpoints of the groups listed – viewpoints that the committees explicitly disfavor and which they imply constitute “malign influence.”  

Our concerns about this overbroad investigation into protest activity are further amplified by the specific records sought: Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs). It’s important to note that SARs are not evidence of criminal activity. They are filed by financial institutions to receive legal immunity from prosecution – a strong incentive to file SARs even in the absence of illegal activity. In essence, SARs constitute mandated surveillance by non-law enforcement entities. It is, therefore, particularly troubling that Chairman Comer has previously and wrongly conflated SARs with evidence of crime.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the committees’ letter is the statement that the Committees are seeking records about “anti-American” protest activity. In both approach and language, their letter invokes one of the more shameful periods in Congressional history: the political witch hunts led by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) during the Red Scare. HUAC abused its power to create blacklists of Americans suspected of anti-American political beliefs. These acts tarnished our history and trampled civil liberties. 

It is shocking that the Committees would straightforwardly invoke the HUAC-era abuse of Congressional power with seeming pride – it is ahistorical and deeply shameful. 

We object to the breadth and focus of their sweeping records request, which explicitly seeks to investigate protected expressive activity. If anything is “anti-American,” it is the lack of care for the First Amendment implicit in this records request. We urge the committees to rescind their request.

Read NCAC’s joint statement here:

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