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Sixty Years after NAACP v. Alabama, Nonprofit Donors Still Fight for Their Privacy

August 1, 2018

by Matt Miller
August 1, 2018

The year 2018 marks the 60th anniversary of NAACP v. Alabama, the landmark Supreme Court case that affirmed the First Amendment right of nonprofit donors to remain anonymous. As the Court understood, donors choose to remain anonymous for all sorts of reasons, from simple modesty, to religious conviction, to a fear of harassment and intimidation by their ideological opponents. While all of these are important First Amendment interests, the last concern—fear of harassment—was the focus of the Court’s opinion.

Donors’ fear of harassment and intimidation has not abated six decades later. Many donors dread the idea that their name (and address, and often employer) will be put on a government list and provided to their ideological opponents. And the threat of harassment is only increasing. Malcontents of all ideological persuasions enjoy harassing people they disagree with—from email threats, to vandalism, to outright assault.

Despite this increasingly heated environment, governments continue to pass new laws that require nonprofit groups to disclose their donor lists—which the governments then publicize on the internet for all to see. The Goldwater Institute is currently litigating two such cases, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Denver, Colorado. In both cases, the government is asserting an “informational interest” in knowing who is supporting nonprofit groups whenever those groups communicate with voters about ballot measures. The city of Tempe, Arizona, recently adopted a similar ordinance (although it was later preempted by the Arizona legislature). An Arizona ballot campaign, which would require donor disclosure in state elections, even adopted the slogan, “We Have a Right to Know.”

All of this talk of a “right to know” and an “informational interest” in disclosure obscures the First Amendment rights of donors themselves, who remain the people with the most to lose in this fight. A powerful new video by People United for Privacy gives voice to donors’ concerns. It celebrates the 60th anniversary of NAACP v. Alabama and includes an interview with Nadine Strossen, who was the president of the American Civil Liberties Union for nearly 30 years.

Donor privacy is not a partisan issue. No matter which cause you support—from the NAACP, to the NRA, to Planned Parenthood—you have a constitutional right to privacy and anonymity. That is why the Goldwater Institute, along with organizations like the Institute for Free Speech, will continue to fight for the right of every American to support the causes they believe in without living in fear of ideological harassment and intimidation.

Matt Miller is a Senior Attorney at the Goldwater Institute and author of a report on the 60th anniversary of NAACP v. Alabama, which was released earlier this year.



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