A case set to be heard by the Supreme Court this year will decide an issue that has long percolated through American campaign finance — should organizations be required to report the personal information of their contributors, or is doing so a violation of the First Amendment’s right to privacy.
The case, Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta, examines whether California is legally allowed to require nonprofit organizations to disclose the names and addresses of all donors who give $5,000 or more in one year. Americans for Prosperity refused to comply with the regulation, but the courts have so far held that the requirement does not infringe upon individual donor First Amendment protections.
Americans for Prosperity, however, argues that disclosing such information puts donors at risk of harassment because it shines a spotlight on people with libertarian or conservative views in one of the country’s most liberal states.
In making its case, Americans for Prosperity looks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 1958 case NAACP v. Alabama, where the Court ruled that the government must show a compelling interest before breaching the privacy associated with making a charitable contribution. In the 1950s, Alabama sought to obtain and publicize lists of NAACP supporters in an effort to weaken the organization’s support and continue the state’s Jim Crow-era policies.
The Institute for Free Speech also argues that disclosure of donor information could lead to a further perpetuation of “cancel culture” if individual names and contact information are made public.
Those siding with California in Americans for Prosperity v. Bonta argue that eliminating the disclosure requirement would cause the spread of “dark money” that has become common in political spending into other areas of charitable giving, providing less government oversight of the nonprofit world and opening the door to nefarious activity.
A decision on the case is expected by the end of the Supreme Court’s current term in June. According to Amy Howe at SCOTUSblog, it seems likely that the requirement will be ruled unconstitutional by the court’s conservative majority, who seemed to side with Americans for Prosperity during oral arguments in April.
Howe wrote, “There seemed to be a majority on the court that was skeptical of the requirement and willing to strike it down, either in its entirety or, at a minimum, as it applies to the two nonprofits.”
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