On August 31 of this year, the Civitas Institute Center for Law and Freedom (CLF) filed a joint amicus brief with the Buckeye Institute, the Alliance Defending Freedom, and the National Taxpayers Union in the case of Center for Competitive Politics v. Harris. At issue is whether the California Attorney General can require charities and other tax-exempt organizations to disclose their significant donors as a condition of fundraising in California. Our brief encourages the Supreme Court of the United States to hear an appeal of the Ninth Circuit’s decision upholding the actions of the California Attorney General.
Today, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal expressed agreement with our position:
In 1976 the Supreme Court wrote in Buckley v. Valeo that “we have repeatedly found that compelled disclosure, in itself, can seriously infringe on privacy of association and belief guaranteed by the First Amendment . . . and cannot be justified by a mere showing of some legitimate governmental interest.” In its most famous disclosure case, 1958’s NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson, the Court said that government scrutiny of group membership violated the right of citizens “to pursue their lawful private interests privately and to associate freely with others in so doing.”
That’s often true at charities, whose donors may value anonymity for such reasons as religious belief or a desire not to flaunt their wealth. In 2014 individuals gave some $287 billion to charity, including more than a million nonprofits. According to the Philanthropy Roundtable, one-eighth of those are registered to solicit in California. New York and Florida are also now requiring nonprofits to disclose their donors to government.
If government officials really need donor information to enforce the law, they can use the regular legal method of establishing cause to suspect a crime and subpoenaing additional information. The question for the Supreme Court is whether Americans still have a right to associate in private, or whether politicians can compel disclosure that chills speech and damages the First Amendment.