It’s unconstitutional for California to demand nonprofits hand over sensitive donor information, the Supreme Court recently ruled in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta, arguing a lack of donor privacy defies legal precedent and would discourage free speech and philanthropy.
“Our cases have said that disclosure requirements can chill associates ‘[e]ven if there [is] no disclosure to the general public,” Chief Justice John Roberts writes. “While assurances of confidentiality may reduce the burden of disclosure to the State, they do not eliminate it.”
Indeed, DonorsTrust CEO Lawson Bader in a recent op-ed shares his own experience fielding messages from disgruntled callers. Most of the callers were unhappy with donors and where donors invest their charitable dollars. Imagine the danger our clients would be in if these callers could phone a donor directly!
Here’s an excerpt from the RealClear Politics piece:
When I took over DonorsTrust more than five years ago, I expected some vitriol to be flung my way by those who disagree with our governing principles. I’ve worked in the D.C. policy world for decades, and, frankly, such anger comes with the territory. I did not expect just how unpleasantly descriptive and personally threatening these hateful callers would be.
No one should be exposed to such irrational abuse and, while I won’t say I enjoy these calls, I know that all donor-advised fund account holders have the option to recommend anonymous grants – and it is often the institutional provider that absorbs the punches that are really intended for its clients.
One donor’s cause celebre may be another’s greatest offense. For this reason, U.S. nonprofit organizations are not obligated to make public their list of donors. This practice protects donors – progressive or conservative or politically unengaged. It also protects nonprofits themselves – whether Planned Parenthood, National Right to Life, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or the Beef Producer Partnership.
Donors need privacy. In fact, donors are entitled to privacy. It’s a bedrock American tradition. It’s reassuring, then, that the Supreme Court upheld the longstanding tradition of donor privacy for all philanthropists.