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Georgia Becomes 19th State to Pass Donor Privacy Law

Many of them were passed in reaction to compelled disclosure in states like California.

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This week, Georgia became the 19th state in the U.S. to pass a law protecting the privacy of members, donors, and volunteers of nonprofit groups.

Georgia state capitol building / Wiki commons

The Personal Privacy Protection Act, signed into law by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp on May 6, prohibits a public agency in the state from compelling a nonprofit organization to release personal information of its donors or volunteers.

“Once a group’s donors are identified … they can be subjected to intimidation and pressure campaigns to make them stop giving,” People United for Privacy wrote of the possible consequences of revealing donors’ names. “Instead of a free exchange of ideas, dissenting views are bullied out of the mainstream.”

People United for Privacy praised the passage of the Georgia law, saying it is a “proactive measure aimed at preventing the types of privacy violations that occurred in states like California and New York in the last decade.”

In 2022, someone in the New York State Attorney General’s office allegedly leaked the personal information of supporters of Stand for America, a group affiliated with former presidential candidate Nikki Haley.

In California, Attorney General Rob Bonta threatened two tax-exempt charities who redacted the names of their donors from their IRS Form 990s. The initial disclosure rule was instituted in 2010 when Kamala Harris was California’s attorney general.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in 2021 that California’s disclosure requirement burdened donors’ First Amendment rights because it was not sufficiently narrowly tailored to advance a compelling government interest.

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“The upshot is that California casts a dragnet for sensitive donor information from tens of thousands of charities each year,” the court wrote of California’s requirement.

The Bonta case was the most recent in a line of Supreme Court rulings beginning in 1958 that  affirm the right to freedom of association that belongs to donors.

In NAACP v. Alabama, “The Supreme Court held that the State of Alabama could not require the NAACP to disclose its member list to the state,” the Electronic Privacy Information Center wrote about the case.

“NAACP members had faced ‘economic reprisal, loss of employment, threat of physical coercion, and other manifestations of public hostility’ because of their connection to the NAACP, and therefore forced disclosure of the NAACP’s member list placed a substantial burden on its members’ right of free association.”

Since 2018, 19 states have passed laws protecting nonprofit groups from being forced to disclose personal information about their supporters.

So far this year, Georgia and Nebraska have passed donor privacy laws, Kentucky, Indiana, and Alabama passed similar laws in 2023.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a non-profit legal defense group, praised Georgia’s law. “Every American should be free to peacefully support causes they believe in without fear of harassment or intimidation. This provision within the bill is an important step in guaranteeing privacy protections for all Georgians in a manner consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Thomas More Law Center v. Bonta, which affirmed that the First Amendment’s promise of ‘free association’ includes the right to privacy in financial giving.”

The Philanthropy Roundtable supports donor privacy protections also. “For all Americans—conservative, progressive, or apolitical—protecting donor privacy is crucial to the health and freedom of our society,” it wrote.

At the federal level, Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) introduced the Speech Privacy Act in July 2023, which would prohibit “any entity of the federal government from collecting or requiring the submission of information on the identification of any donor to a tax-exempt organization.”

The bill was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, but no further action has been taken.

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a freelance writer who holds a Juris Doctorate from Baylor University. She has home schooled her three children and is happily married to her husband of 25 years.