Supreme Court rules against California requirement that nonprofits disclose donor information
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a California requirement that required nonprofit groups to disclose private donor information to state officials. The 6-3 decision was closely watched in the nonprofit community, and strikes a blow for donor privacy.
Writing for the majority, Chief justice John Roberts said the state’s demand for donors’ personal information was not useful in preventing fraud, but was instead, designed to make administration of charities easier for government.
Roberts said the law was a clear violation of the First Amendment:
California’s disclosure requirement imposes a widespread burden on donors’ associational rights, and this burden cannot be justified on the ground that the regime is narrowly tailored to investigating charitable wrongdoing, or that the State’s interest in administrative convenience is sufficiently important.
The case originated in 2014, when Americans for Prosperity Foundation sued then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris over the requirement, alleging it violated the group’s First Amendment rights.
There have been long-standing allegations that Harris, who was about to run for the Senate, turned the screws on AFP purely for political reasons:
Harris is running for the Senate. She is a Democrat. AFP is associated with the Koch brothers and with any number of public-policy disputes that have left Democrats bruised and defeated. Nonprofits register federally with the IRS, and also with the states in which they are active. Harris, right around the time she decided she wanted to become a senator, also decided that the paperwork AFP and other conservative organizations had been filing for years in California was insufficient, and she demanded — this will not surprise you — a list of major donors.
While the group prevailed – twice – in the district court, the appeals court – twice – supported the state:
AFP convinced the federal district court that Harris’s request served no legitimate purpose and was part of a political campaign by Democrats against conservative organizations. It demonstrated, among other things, that government agencies had “systematically failed to maintain the confidentiality of Schedule B forms” containing donor information and other financial data.
This is not an investigation that would have an incidental chilling effect on free speech and political activism; the chilling effect is the entire point.
Here’s to the First Amendment’s warming glow melting Harris’ frosty, unconstitutional legacy.