Donor privacy legislation passes Senate

By Steve Wilson
March 13, 2019

A bill that could protect the donor lists of non-profit organizations was passed by the Senate before deadline on Tuesday.

House Bill 1205 would prohibit state agencies from requesting or releasing donor information on charitable groups organized under section 501 of federal tax law. Some of these groups can engage in political activity.

The bill, which is sponsored by state Rep. Jerry Turner (R-Baldwyn) was originally written to include all of the different 501(c) designations. The bill was amended in the Senate Accountability, Efficiency, Transparency Committee for the bill’s protections to only include 501(c)(3) organizations, which are prohibited from political activity.

A floor amendment changed the bill’s language back to that in the original House language and removed a reverse repealer, which is a legislative tactic on a bill designed to keep alive and invite further discussion by preventing it from becoming law.

“It is an honor to support legislation that prevents corruption and intimidation by protecting the right of people to give to nonprofits of their choice and to prevent the politicization of the right of individuals to give to the causes they hold dear,” said state Sen. Jenifer Branning (R-Philadelphia).

State Rep. Mark Baker (R-Brandon) was one of the bill’s co-sponsors in the House and presented it on the floor. He said it’s an issue that cuts both ways and isn’t aimed at just right-leaning 501(c) groups.

“The right associated to privately contribute to non-profits anonymously, to me, is critical to the exercise of the First Amendment,” Baker said. “Protecting this right is crucial to the health and the freedom of our society. There are groups that do things that I don’t agree with, but I agree that they have the right to keep their donors private.”

Several Democrat senators railed against the amended bill, which passed the Senate on a largely party line vote of 32 to 18.

“If you pass this amendment, you will open the biggest loophole since we passed campaign finance disclosure in Mississippi,” said state Sen. David Blount (D-Jackson). “If you pass this amendment, you are saying that 501(c)(4)s can get involved with your campaign or your opponent’s campaign.

“As long as they don’t expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate, they can do whatever they want and not disclose anything.”

State Sen. David Jordan (D-Greenwood) was even more strident in his criticism of the amendment.

“The only difference between this amendment and Jesse James is you need a horse,” Jordan said. “This really hurts the system. We have enough corruption at the national level and now you want to bring it to the state level and that’s wrong.”

HB 1205 is being held on a motion to reconsider, which means the Senate will have until Friday to send it to the House for concurrence since it was changed.

If the House concurs with the changes, the bill will go to Gov. Phil Bryant. If not, the two chambers will have to settle their differences in a conference committee.

According to federal law, 501(c)(3) groups have to disclose their donor lists to the IRS, which are not disclosed on publicly available tax filings. These organizations are eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions, but can’t engage in direct political activity.

The IRS recently changed its regulations in July to remove donor lists from the publicly-available tax forms for 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(6) organizations. Changing the rules for 501(c)(3) organizations would require action by Congress.


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