States move to protect donor privacy
Virginia and Kansas are the latest to safeguard charitable donors’ names and personal info
Two states’ governors signed bills last week to provide some relief to charitable donors who fear harassment for giving to unpopular causes.
On Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin approved a bill that protects the private information of individuals who support charities and nonprofits. On Thursday, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly did likewise, signing a similarly focused measure.
The legislation follows last year’s Supreme Court ruling in Thomas More Law Center v. Bonta, in which the court struck down a California law’s blanket requirement that nonprofits disclose sensitive donor information to the state. Evidence presented in the case indicated that while the state was supposed to safeguard donor information, it failed to do so, resulting in many donors being “doxxed”—or having their identity, address, or other personal details publicly disclosed.
While both Virginia’s and Kansas’ laws safeguard donor privacy, they differ in the remedy afforded to doxxed donors. Both make it a criminal offense to release donor information knowingly, but the Kansas law provides more relief to injured donors, allowing them to recover not less than $7,500 for each improper disclosure, as well as attorneys’ fees and other legal costs. The Virginia law does not provide for damages but permits donors to obtain a court order preventing further disclosures.
Ten other states have passed similar donor privacy laws, and others are considering them, according to Alliance Defending Freedom’s Zach Pruitt, who has been monitoring state legislation. Some of those legislative efforts have encountered opposition.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed a donor privacy law passed in September 2021, and Republican sponsors were unable to muster the votes to override him. Cooper said the legislation was “unnecessary and may limit transparency with political contributions.”
Jon Guze, senior fellow at the John Locke Foundation, called that reasoning hollow. The donor privacy laws passed still require the identification of political campaign contributors. “I think this [opposition] is all about controlling the discourse and making people afraid to express their opinions,” he said, adding that such control is easy in a social context when people are harassed online and can lose their jobs for supporting the wrong cause.
ADF’s Pruitt noted the laws often provide additional safeguards such as preventing requirements that nonprofit recipients of state grants disclose not only donors but members. And while the Supreme Court did not issue a blanket prohibition of donor disclosure laws, it made it very difficult for lawmakers to draft a such a law that could be considered constitutional, he said.
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