ACLU, Partner Orgs File SCOTUS Amicus Brief Supporting Privacy Rights of Nonprofit Donors

March 2, 2021 3:15 pm

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NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus brief with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the Human Rights Campaign, and PEN America urging the Supreme Court to protect the privacy rights of non-profit donors across progressive and conservative organizations.

The case, Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Becerra, challenges California’s blanket requirement for nonprofits to disclose their IRS Form 990 Schedule B documents, which identify their top donors. The groups argue that the rule violates the First Amendment right to associational privacy. Nonprofits’ Schedule B forms contain the names and addresses of major donors, highly sensitive information. Although California purports to keep this information confidential, California has repeatedly failed to keep the information confidential. Recently, for example, California inadvertently published more than 1,700 Schedule B forms on a public website over a period of many years.

In the amicus brief, the groups argue blanket public disclosure of nonprofit donors violates the First Amendment, and if the state is collecting this information, it has a duty to keep it confidential.

The following is comment from:

Brian Hauss, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project:

“The First Amendment protects associational privacy for a reason. People who fear that they will be subject to threats, harassment, and reprisals if their associations are publicly revealed by the government, whether intentionally or by mistake, will be chilled from exercising their First Amendment rights. If California is allowed to continue sweeping up nonprofits’ sensitive donor information, despite its demonstrated inability to keep that information confidential, civil society will end up paying the price for the government’s failures.”

David Cole, the ACLU’s national legal director:

“We rarely agree with the views of Americans for Prosperity, a group founded by the Koch brothers, but the First Amendment’s association and speech rights extend to all, and we are committed to defending those rights even when we disagree with the views of those exercising them.”

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