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donor privacy in Thomas More Law Center v. Becerra

How a Dangerous, Unnecessary, Uncalled-for Mandate in California Affects You

By Sarah Kramer posted on:
March 25, 2021

On April 26, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case Thomas More Law Center v. Becerra. And if you’ve ever donated to a nonprofit organization, you should be paying attention to it.

Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) is challenging a California mandate that requires charities to hand over the names and addresses of their major donors to the government.

As a nonprofit that defends and promotes religious freedom, moral and family values, and the sanctity of human life, TMLC had fundraised in California for years without incident. Never before had it been forced to disclose its donors’ private information. But in 2012, the Attorney General’s office suddenly started harassing TMLC and demanding the names and addresses of its major supporters.

TMLC was understandably concerned and decided to challenge California’s mandate in court. Now, Alliance Defending Freedom is representing TMLC before the Supreme Court. Here’s why:

  • California’s mandate is dangerous. The California Attorney General’s office leaks confidential records like a sieve. At one point, anyone could use a web browser to access the confidential documents that listed charity supporters’ personal information. Unfortunately, we’ve already seen how people can abuse such information to try to punish their ideological opponents, whether it’s getting them fired from their job, harassed online, or worse. In fact, TMLC’s supporters, clients, and employees have faced intimidation, death threats, hate mail, boycotts, and even an assassination plot from those who disagree with them.
  • California’s mandate is unnecessary. The California Attorney General’s office hardly ever uses supporter information for any purpose. It never launches or ends investigations with the information. If the AG actually needs a specific nonprofit’s donor information, it can get that info through subpoena or audit. In their amicus brief at the Supreme Court, 22 states affirmed as much. So why should TMLC put its supporters at risk by disclosing information about their private financial giving?
  • California’s mandate is uncalled-for. California requires all nonprofits that want to fundraise in the state to provide all their major supporters’ information every year—with no reason to think they’ve done anything wrong. There is no suspicion that a specific crime has been committed. And it’s ridiculous to think that an understaffed, underfunded, and underequipped group of California government officials can keep donor information from tens of thousands of charities across the nation secure. In reality, all California’s mandate does is potentially expose sensitive information for supporters of organizations across the ideological spectrum for no good reason.

Thomas More Law Center and You

So, what does this dangerous, unnecessary, uncalled-for mandate in California have to do with you?

It’s quite simple really.

Under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution we are guaranteed the freedom of association. That means we have the freedom to choose which groups or causes we associate with (or donate to).

But, think about it. If your private information and the organizations you support would be exposed to politicians like the attorney general and the public, you would think twice about donating to those organizations. Every time you wanted to support a charity, you would have to ask, “is it worth the cost?”

I know I would.

We’ve seen what happens when someone’s personal information is released online with the intent to cause them harm. When it’s private entities or individuals that reveal this information, it’s known as “doxing.” Doxing has ruined careers and resulted in public shaming, and it hurts people and causes across the ideological spectrum. When it’s the government’s fault that donor information is revealed, it’s more than “doxing”—it’s a violation of the First Amendment.

The bottom line is that every American should be free to peacefully support causes they believe in without fear of harassment or intimidation.

California officials are undermining that freedom. And it must stop.

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Sarah Kramer

Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

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

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