When it comes to charitable fundraising, there are myriad rules and regulations governing solicitations – and for good reason. Proper oversight ensures that donors can be confident their contributions are going to support the charitable work they believe in. This confidence helps foster more giving and more of the critical charitable work our communities depend on.
But some states have taken this oversight too far. Connecticut, for example, imposes onerous, unnecessary requirements on paid charitable fundraisers, stipulating they give the state 20-days’ notice before speaking to donors and mandating scripts and materials be submitted to the state in advance. The state also has ignored the rights of donors to privacy by requiring charities to maintain all donor names and addresses for three years … and to provide this private information to the state on demand.
Kissel v. Seagull Challenged Connecticut Regs
Unsurprisingly, this web of ineffective and damaging rules faced a legal challenge on the grounds the rules violated freedom of speech. Adam Kissel, a fundraiser for the civic education-focused nonprofit The Jack Miller Center and a former Philanthropy Roundtable employee, stepped forward last year to challenge these requirements. He believes in the organization’s mission to help professors and instructors teach students about America’s founding principles but ran into Connecticut’s onerous fundraising regulations when he sought to talk about it with potential donors in the state.
Thanks to the help of Pacific Legal Foundation, Kissel was able to challenge these requirements with a federal lawsuit – and to argue that his right to free speech had been chilled. In their complaint, Kissel’s attorneys wrote, “The State of Connecticut imposes a series of barriers which restrict both the ability of paid charitable fundraisers to speak freely and the ability of individual donors to give to these organizations anonymously.”
Victory for Free Speech
On Jan. 19, Connecticut conceded that its existing solicitation laws are unconstitutional as they prevent fundraisers from speaking freely to potential donors about causes they support. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision to protect donor privacy in Americans for Prosperity v. Bonta, there is no question that the state has been violating key freedoms with its fundraising rules.
Thanks to the Kissel case, the state will no longer enforce the challenged rules and will publish a notice on its website to inform fundraisers they are not subject to these burdens. This is a victory for Connecticut’s nonprofits, their donors and their causes.