Cities and states across the nation want nonprofit groups to disclose their donor lists any time those groups speak about ballot measures or propositions, but one nonprofit organization says that this is illegal.
"Cities are being used as one of the main vehicles to enact this law, and I think part of it is because anytime these laws come up at state legislatures, they're always extremely contentious," attorney Matt Miller explained in a new report for Goldwater Institute. "There's always a lot of opposition and they become very high-profile, and it's difficult to enact – and what we're seeing is that cities have enacted them without anybody really realizing what was going one."
Miller pointed out that this happened in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2015, and in Denver, Colorado, in 2017.
The Goldwater Institute has cases in both cities challenging the constitutionality of these laws.
"The city of Tempe – here in Arizona – has put this issue on the ballot for March of this year, and [it] will ask voters to approve it,” Miller shared. “And if they approve it, we'll probably sue the city over that law, too, because the First Amendment guarantees your right to this privacy."
This privacy was also ruled as guaranteed to donors in a 1950s United States Supreme Court ruling in the case NAACP v. Alabama.
"What the [Supreme] Court said in NAACP v Alabama is that there is a First Amendment right to keep your donations to a nonprofit organization private and anonymous – and the government does not have a right to demand those lists from you," Miller explained.
Miller contends that when donors lists are turned over to the government and publicized, those donors are put at risk for intimidation and harassment.
"In the 1950s, people were lynched – there was violence used against them and southern states were demanding the donor list of the NAACP knowing that private citizens would then turn around and enact retaliation on people for supporting deregulation," Miller recounted. "Today it's different. The threat of physical violence is much smaller, but the threat of intimidation and harassment is still very real – especially when these lists are put up on the Internet and you can harass someone anonymously through the Internet … and that's a large part of the reason why you have the right to remain anonymous. It's a harm to you to be harassed or intimidated by your ideological opponents, and you have the right to choose to avoid that harm by remaining anonymous."