In an op-ed published in National Review entitled “The Attack on Nonprofit Free Speech Continues,” Philanthropy Roundtable Interim President and CEO Christie Herrera examines threats to donor privacy two years after the Supreme Court’s decision in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta. While this ruling was “supposed to stop states from subjecting people to speech-chilling threats of intimidation and violence,” Herrera writes that the assault on donor privacy rights has returned. To counter this threat, she proposes congressional legislation codifying the Court’s decision.
Below are excerpts from the article:
“The 2022 state legislative season — the first since the Bonta decision — saw multiple states end donor-disclosure mandates. Yet in the first six months of 2023, no fewer than 19 states have considered legislation that would compel diverse and even apolitical organizations to share private supporter information. They range from blue states to purple states to red states, with at least eight bills still pending. That includes a bill in California — the state at the heart of Bonta — mandating disclosure of people who help fund ballot initiatives.”
“The threat to free speech is obvious. When someone is outed in the public square, including their addresses and employers, their opponents have a golden opportunity for intimidation. They can protest outside a family’s home, pressure companies to punish people, and engage in other menacing activities. The Supreme Court highlighted the dangers in Bonta, including a threat to ‘slit his throat’ as well as ‘bomb threats . . . stalking, and physical violence.’ Faced with such threats to life and limb, many Americans would rather stay silent than give to a cause that’s controversial, even if it’s a charitable one. This campaign endangers both their safety and the viability of the groups they support, hurting many vulnerable Americans who rely on the generosity of such organizations.”
“Who will stop these new assaults on the First Amendment? The federal courts are likely to intervene again. Multiple organizations, including the Goldwater Institute and Americans for Prosperity, have filed lawsuits challenging Arizona’s policy. As more states mandate disclosure, whether via ballot measure or legislation, other lawsuits will be filed. Yet the reaction to the Bonta decision shows that activists are willing to ignore judicial rulings. Something more is needed to protect free speech: a federal law.
“Congress should pass legislation codifying the Bonta decision and protecting donors’ private information from unwarranted disclosures. Such a bill could draw endorsements from across the political spectrum. After all, nearly 300 diverse organizations supported the Bonta ruling, ranging from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Human Rights Campaign on the left to the Leadership Institute and Americans United for Life on the right. While congressional Democrats are most likely to support the current state campaigns, one would hope they would find it hard to oppose storied groups such as the NAACP and the ACLU. It turns out that people of all political stripes don’t want to be subjected to intimidation and violence.”
To read the complete article, please visit National Review.