Donor Privacy Takes Center Stage in House Committee Hearing for the American Confidence in Elections Act

Donor privacy was the hot topic in last week’s Committee on House Administration hearing. Committee members brought together experts on free speech to discuss the American Confidence in Elections Act, a landmark election reform, free speech and privacy protection package proposed by House Republicans. With crucial provisions that would help protect the right to give anonymously to nonprofits,  Philanthropy Roundtable applauds Chairman Bryan Steil (R-Wis.) for shining a spotlight on this important measure. 

In his opening remarks, Steil provided key context for the discussion: “In our highly politicized political culture and climate, the First Amendment has been under attack through the use of misinformation czars and cancel culture. As a result, many Americans have grown concerned that their voices will be suppressed or that their beliefs will be weaponized against them.”  

The chairman said the American Confidence in Elections Act will help address these concerns as it will “finally prohibit the IRS and any other federal agency from asking for an organization’s donor lists, creating ad hoc standards and applying them to ideologically opposed groups. This will help to protect individuals from retribution, harassment or intimidation based on their beliefs.” 

Elizabeth McGuigan, vice president of Policy and Government Affairs at Philanthropy Roundtable, submitted a statement for the record to the committee in support of the donor privacy provisions, highlighting the importance of this safeguard in maintaining a vibrant democracy. 

The Value of Anonymity in Public Discourse 

Throughout history, the power of anonymous giving has played a pivotal role in advancing noble causes. From the fight against slavery to the women’s suffrage movement and the pursuit of civil rights, individuals have privately supported endeavors that have reshaped society. Anonymity has long been regarded as a means to protect individuals and ideas, allowing them to flourish without fear of reprisal or harassment. 

In modern society, the choice to remain anonymous as a donor is driven by various factors. Some individuals exercise modesty, while others are guided by religious beliefs that encourage humility in their acts of giving. Additionally, many people wish to avoid uninvited solicitations, preserving their autonomy in supporting the causes that resonate with them. In our highly polarized society, another crucial reason for donor privacy is the fear of backlash and harassment due to associations with certain organizations or causes. 

Ongoing Threats to Donor Privacy 

Although the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the right of donors to remain anonymous in the 2021 Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta case, the battle to protect donor privacy persists. Numerous state lawmakers, in states ranging from California to Maine, are contemplating measures that could override the fundamental right to anonymous giving. This sustained assault on donor privacy not only undermines the First Amendment but also threatens the diversity of ideas and perspectives that form the bedrock of our democracy. 

Preserving the Strength of Democracy 

Nonprofit organizations play a critical role in enabling citizens to participate in public discourse and advocate for the causes they hold dear. By safeguarding donor privacy, we can foster an environment where individuals from all walks of life feel safe to support a diverse array of organizations and causes. This protection is crucial in ensuring that everyone can exercise their freedom of expression without fear of harassment or public intimidation. 

Donor Privacy Provisions in the American Confidence in Elections Act Foster Charitable Giving 

Philanthropy Roundtable stands firmly behind the donor protection and privacy provisions outlined in the American Confidence in Elections Act. These provisions serve as essential guardrails, protecting millions of Americans across the nation who deeply value their right to privately support the causes they believe in. Furthermore, these provisions safeguard the diverse causes and communities that rely on the contributions of concerned citizens coming together for the greater social good. 

In a time of political polarization and heightened scrutiny, preserving donor privacy is paramount. It upholds the principles of free speech, protects the independence of individuals in supporting causes and ensures the continued strength of our democracy. Lawmakers must recognize the importance of donor privacy as a fundamental pillar of American society. By embracing the donor protection and privacy provisions in the American Confidence in Elections Act, we can strengthen our democracy and celebrate the diversity of ideas and perspectives that make our nation great. 

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