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Supreme Court of the United States

3 Reasons the Supreme Court Should Weigh in on California Forcing Nonprofits to Reveal Their Donors

By Sarah Kramer posted on:
August 27, 2019

Imagine your name, address, and charitable donations being made public on the internet. Would you be concerned?

Well, that’s a reality for thousands of donors whose nonprofit of choice solicits in California. In 2010, the state attorney general’s office changed its policies to require nonprofit organizations from across the country to disclose the names and addresses of their largest donors, as well as the amounts that they donated, if they fundraise in California, the nation’s most populous state.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case challenging this requirement.

ADF is representing Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), a legal nonprofit that defends religious freedom, family values, and the sanctity of life. TMLC had raised funds in California for years without any complaints. After implementing this new regulation, however, California told TMLC to disclose this information or stop fundraising in the state altogether, even though California admitted that it did not need the donor information to properly regulate nonprofits.

Here are three reasons that the Supreme Court should hear this case.

1. The government should not be concerned with what causes and beliefs private citizens choose to financially support.

The government works for the people, so we can and should expect transparency from the state. But it doesn’t go both ways. The government has no right to invade the privacy of everyday Americans.

Not to mention that California’s requirement puts the private information of supporters of charitable organizations at risk – particularly since there is no protection against government employees or contractors downloading, emailing, or printing this information and disclosing it publicly.

This could have major consequences for those who hold unpopular views, possibly subjecting them to harassment, threats, and losing their jobs.

2. The Supreme Court needs to reiterate that our constitutional right to free association includes the right to donor anonymity.

In the 1950s, Alabama tried to force the NAACP to turn over its membership lists, which could have been used by white supremacist groups to target those members. In NAACP v. Alabama, the Supreme Court ruled against the state, recognizing that releasing the private information of NAACP supporters would threaten their jobs and their physical safety.

The High Court found the state’s position threatened the freedom of association, which guarantees our right as Americans to join and support charitable organizations that align with our beliefs without fear of government or third-party interference.

If the government can force nonprofits to disclose their donor information, it will ultimately lead to certain viewpoints being shut out of the public square. Many donors will decide that the cost of supporting charitable organizations that hold “controversial” views is simply too great – effectively silencing those viewpoints.

The Supreme Court needs to make this clear once again.

3. Donor privacy is important for people of all beliefs and political stripes.

We’ve already seen the consequences of publicly disclosing donor information in California – and it wasn’t pretty.

In 2008, California voters passed Proposition 8, which upheld marriage as a union between one man and one woman. As you can imagine, the debate was heated. So heated, in fact, that opponents of the proposition compiled lists of donors who supported the proposition and created websites dedicated to their personal destruction.

Most prominently, Mozilla Firefox CEO Brendan Eich was pressured to resign after his private support for Proposition 8 became public. And he wasn’t the only one. Many everyday people were targeted for supporting Proposition 8. Some supporters were fired. Others faced death threats and property damage.

But this doesn’t just matter in Blue States like California.

The risks of forced donor disclosure are the same for a progressive who supports Planned Parenthood but lives and works in a mainly conservative environment.

The bottom line is that every American should be free to support causes they believe in without fear of harassment or intimidation. That’s a freedom we should all be able to support – even if we support wildly different causes.

Sarah Kramer

Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

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