WASHINGTON, D.C.— The Philanthropy Roundtable filed a friend-of-the-court brief Friday in the case Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Becerra asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to uphold a federal district court’s earlier ruling that the California attorney general’s attempt to force a charitable organization to disclose its donor list is an unconstitutional burden on its First Amendment rights.
”Anonymous charitable giving has a long and important history in philanthropy, stretching at least from the Biblical admonition ‘that your giving may be in secret’ to the countless number of citizens today who choose to give privately on crowdfunding platforms that support the needs of individuals and causes they find worthy,” said Sean Parnell, vice president of public policy at The Philanthropy Roundtable. “The freedom of individuals to decide for themselves whether to make their giving public is vital to preserving a robust, independent philanthropic sector, and California’s attorney general has demonstrated neither the need for this information nor the ability to maintain its confidentiality.”
Beginning in 2010, the California attorney general’s office has demanded that tax-exempt nonprofits submit unredacted versions of their IRS Form 990 Schedule B, which includes the name, address, and amount contributed of significant donors. The Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF) sued the state arguing that the requirement was a violation of donor privacy and the First Amendment. In April 2016, Judge Manuel Real of the U. S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled in favor of AFPF noting that “the record before the Court lacks even a single, concrete instance in which pre-investigation collection of a Schedule B did anything to advance the Attorney General’s investigative, regulatory or enforcement efforts.” The trial also revealed that despite assurances that the sensitive information would be kept confidential, the attorney general’s office had posted the donor information of more than 1,700 nonprofits.
The brief submitted by the Roundtable today argues that anonymous giving is a longstanding and indispensable feature of American philanthropy and that California’s forced collection and reckless disclosure of sensitive donor information raises serious constitutional concerns.
“California’s cavalier disregard for donor anonymity cannot be squared with the First Amendment, which protects the right to donate to charity, the right to freely associate with organizations of one’s choosing, and the right to fulfill religious obligations free of governmental interference. Anonymous giving is central to all of those core First Amendment rights. For many donors, the right to donate to charity is meaningless without the corresponding ability to give anonymously, as Americans have done for centuries,” the Roundtable notes in the brief.
The brief filed on Friday can be found here.