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Donors in Denver See Free Speech Threatened

Colorado Union of Taxpayers Foundation v. City of Denver

Case Status

Date Filed

December 13, 2017

Last Step


Next Step

On appeal to the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Case Overview

Everyone has the right to educate others and promote a position on political and social controversies.  Indeed, this is one of the definitive freedoms of our constitutional system.  And no one should fear retaliation, or have to give up their right to privacy, simply because they choose to support a group that speaks about public controversies.

That’s why in the 1950s, the Supreme Court held that government officials can’t force nonprofits to turn over the identities of their supporters to public officials. “Compelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy,” the Court ruled in a case in which Alabama tried to force the NAACP to disclose the names and addresses of its supporters, “may constitute as effective a restraint on freedom of association” as direct censorship.

Ever since that decision, nonprofit groups have been able to advocate for issues that are important to them without risking the privacy of their donors—but that is changing.  There is now a growing trend of state and local governments forcing nonprofit groups to turn their donor lists over to the government whenever those groups communicate with voters about local ballot initiatives.  The city of Denver, Colorado, recently passed a law that requires any nonprofit that spends more than $500 when communicating with voters about a ballot initiative to turn its donor lists over to the government.  This is similar to a law passed by Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2015, and one that will be considered by voters in Tempe, Arizona, in 2018. These laws chill free speech by charities and other nonprofit organizations, and expose their donors to potential harassment and retribution. The Goldwater Institute filed this lawsuit to protect the vital rights of free speech and association in our constitutional democracy.

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