Can controversial nonprofits expect government protection from mandatory disclosures of their donor participants? New Jersey is the latest state to respond “No,” at least when Section 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations engage in lobbying or other politically related activity. Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a Section 501(c)(4) organization has asserted “Yes,” challenging this so-called “dark money” reporting and donor disclosure law as a First Amendment violation. AFP’s challenge follows on the heels of its valiant (but thus far defeated) effort against California’s more narrow donor disclosure law. Balancing our nation’s constitutional history regarding freedom of speech, association and expression rights, and related privacy interests against New Jersey’s onerous donor disclosure requirements, AFP should win the day with its newly filed injunction action.
Is it campaign finance reform, or yet another threat of harm to First Amendment rights affecting donors and tax-exempt organizations? This spring, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an “omnibus” campaign finance bill called “For the People Act,” (H.R. 1) which addresses a wide range of election and related matters. The Act expressly excludes Section 501(c)(3) public charities from its donor disclosure and reporting requirements, but not Section 501(c)(4) social welfare or other tax-exempt organizations. While the proposed legislation likely will go nowhere in the Senate, it warrants notable mention in the following ways.
The Silver Lining of the Dissent in Americans for Prosperity Foundation's Denial of Rehearing "En Banc"
Can controversial groups expect government protection from mandatory disclosures of their participants? Not as the Americans for Prosperity Foundation has painfully learned in California. APF suffered yet another court setback in the federal appellate Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ recent denial of an en banc (full court) rehearing. APF has fought the California Attorney General’s mandatory donor disclosures in annual filings, citing First Amendment freedom of speech, association rights, and related concerns for donors’ privacy and protection from harassment.