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The Supreme Court Will Hear This Important Donor Privacy Case

By Maureen Collins posted on:
January 8, 2021

Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) is a nonprofit organization based in Michigan that defends and promotes religious freedom, moral and family values, and the sanctity of human life—issues that can be quite contentious in our current social climate.

In fact, TMLC’s supporters, clients, and employees have faced intimidation, death threats, hate mail, boycotts, and even an assassination attempt from ideological opponents.

Understandably, TMLC wants to make sure their donors’ private information stays protected and secure.

But a policy in California threatens this privacy by requiring nonprofits to hand over the names and private information of nonprofit donors to its Attorney General’s Office—an office with an unfortunate history of leaking confidential information. TMLC told California “no,” and filed a lawsuit against the state to challenge its unconstitutional policy. And in August 2019, TMLC asked the United States Supreme Court to take up its case.

Today, the Supreme Court has announced that it will hear TMLC’s case.

This is good news for anyone who donates to a nonprofit organization.

TMLC has been fighting to protect its donors’ private information since March 2012, when the Attorney General’s Office suddenly began to harass TMLC and demand the names and addresses of its major supporters. TMLC had fundraised in California for years without incident and never disclosed its donors before. But the California Attorney General’s Office changed its policy to force any nonprofit that fundraises in the state to hand over the names and addresses of its top donors.

This policy wouldn’t just affect California residents. It would affect anyone across the country who gives to any nonprofit that asks for donations in California, the nation’s most populous state.

Federal authorities like the IRS may have a decent record of keeping donors’ information secure. But California’s Attorney General’s Office isn’t one of them. In 2009, employees mislabeled nearly 1,800 confidential Schedule B tax documents as “public.” In a separate incident, all of the Registry of Charitable Trusts’ confidential documents were available on the internet and anyone could access them simply by altering a single digit at the end of the document’s URL.

The likelihood of California Attorney General’s Office making donors’ confidential information publicly available is great, and there are no punishments for even willful and malicious leaks. In today’s social climate, that could put supporters and their families at risk.

Every American should be free to support causes they believe in without fear of harassment or intimidation. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will rule in favor of TMLC and put an end to California’s blanket demand for nonprofit supporters’ private information.

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Maureen Collins

Maureen Collins

Web Writer

Maureen has a passion for writing and her work has appeared on The Federalist.

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