Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the constitutional right to anonymous giving in its Americans for Prosperity Foundation v Bonta decision. Ruling that California could not justify its blanket disclosure requirement for the major donors of nonprofits in the state, the Court again recognized that forced disclosure regimes have a chilling effect on voluntary giving and association.
In the immediate wake of the decision, other states with similar disclosure requirements, including New York and New Jersey, rescinded their mandates and few legislatures considered imposing new disclosure rules in the following legislative cycle.
Unfortunately, two years later, opponents of donor privacy are again seeking new ways to violate this right. Right back at it in California, the legislature is considering a bill that would effectively chill free association by forcing the disclosure of donors to ballot measures. Under the guise of campaign finance transparency, such a change would certainly impact a wide range of controversial public issues in the state like LGBTQ rights, abortion laws, taxes and labor issues. That’s why Philanthropy Roundtable has joined others in opposing the bill.
Even where no legislation has advanced, threats are ongoing. In New York, confidential donor information associated with former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley’s nonprofit was leaked to a media outlet, leaving donors vulnerable to threats and harassment.
As our research and the stories in our Free to Give campaign demonstrate, there are all sorts of reasons someone may choose to give or associate privately. Some donors are rightfully nervous about publicly supporting controversial causes, but others remain anonymous out of a sense of modesty, a desire to keep the focus on the charities and those served, or for religious reasons.
Two years after the decision, and in the wake of new threats to donor privacy, it is clear that more must be done, on both the state and federal levels, to enshrine the right to privacy for all American givers and to maintain a thriving, vibrant and free charitable sector.