The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled a California law that required nonprofit organizations to reveal their major donors to the government was unconstitutional. The ruling was an important victory for donor privacy and First Amendment rights.

According to the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal:

Charitable organizations in California that solicit contributions are required by state law to register with the state and provide reports that include their federal IRS Form 990. While most Form 990 information is public, federal law requires that “Schedule B,” which lists an organization’s “substantial donors,” be kept confidential.

Americans for Prosperity and the Thomas More Law Center refused to provide their Schedule B’s to the state, and instead sued California. The risk of public disclosure of this sensitive information, they argued, violates the right of association, especially when California does not actually use it to investigate charitable misconduct.

The court ruled 6-3 in favor of the two organizations that the California donor disclosure requirement violated donors’ First Amendment right to Freedom of Association.

Protecting Donor Privacy

California’s law required nonprofits to provide the state attorney general’s office with names and addresses of their largest donors. The two nonprofits argued the rule discouraged donors from making contributions.

At issue is the privacy of donors, especially in light of the phenomenon of cancel culture. On social media, radical activists have routinely ‘doxxed’ those who have taken a stand on important issues, exposing their home and business addresses, telephone numbers, and other personal information that puts people at risk of attack.

According to the Daily Signal, “Although California says it keeps [donor] information confidential, the state has already leaked thousands of Schedule B forms since the state attorney general first started trying to enforce the requirement in 2010.”

A Fight that Unites

The First Amendment issue was so fundamental to constitutional rights, more than 250 organizations threw their support behind Americans for Prosperity and the Thomas More Law Center in their fight against California’s donor-disclosure law.

The legal battle brought together groups as diverse as the American Civil Liberties Union, Independent Women’s Law Center, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Gun Owners of America, Human Rights Campaign, and Proposition 8 Legal Defense Fund.

The opinion of the court was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, and states, “The gravity of the privacy concerns in this context is further underscored by the filings of hundreds of organizations as amici curiae in support of the nonprofits. Far from representing uniquely sensitive causes, these organizations span the ideological spectrum.”

According to Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel:

[The] decision by the High Court protects the confidentiality of major donors to private charities and nonprofit organizations. This is a great decision that ensures that the government cannot intrude and demand the individual identities and addresses of contributors. In the past, the California Attorney General’s Office has leaked sensitive information which resulted in donor harassment. The government has no business interfering with this private information.

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