Legislation would protect donor privacy for non-profits

By Steve Wilson
March 7, 2019

A bill that could protect the donor lists of non-profit organizations passed a key hurdle Monday.

House Bill 1205 would prohibit state agencies from requesting or releasing donor information on charitable groups organized under section 501 of federal tax law. The bill passed out of the Senate Accountability, Efficiency, Transparency and is now on the Senate calendar.

The deadline for passage is Wednesday.

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 AET Committee for the bill’s protections to only include 501(c)(3) organizations.

If the bill is passed by the Senate, the new version will have to be accepted by the House or else the differences will have to be settled in conference.

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 bill is needed as progressives nationally have made it their goal to expose the donors to political organizations they deem hostile to their interests. If these lists are made available, these donors can be left open to threats, harassment or possibly other consequences.

The Pelosi-run U.S. House will likely pass House Resolution 1, known as the “For the People Act of 2019” Friday.

The rather inaptly named bill would have federal financing of elections in the form of six to one matching funds for donations up to $200 for candidates who reject large donations, would require states to implement mandatory voter registration, restore voting rights nationwide to ex-felons and place greater federal oversight over elections, which have traditionally been the responsibility of the states by limiting state regulations on voting by mail and voter roll purges.

It would also make Election Day a federal employment holiday.

The worst part of the legislation — known as the DISCLOSE and Stand By Every Ad acts — are even being criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union. These acts would require the disclosure of the identity of donors who contribute $50,000 or more by political non-profit groups and also govern revelation of donors for issue-based political ads.

The ACLU and other groups claim this runs counter to First Amendment protections governing free speech.

State Rep. Mark Baker (R-Brandon), a co-sponsor who presented the bill on the House floor, said the ultimate goal of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others on the left is to destroy the donor base of the conservative movement and make the entire country like California, where Republicans are a marginalized minority with little electoral or political power.

“They want to destroy groups like the NRA, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the pro-life movement,” Baker said. “They have already successfully carried out this game plan in California.

“Mississippi has a chance to strike back and take a stand to protect donor privacy rights. That’s why I am championing legislation to protect the right of every person in Mississippi to give to the charity or cause of their choice.”

Passing HB 1205 would take the issue of donor privacy, at the state level, out of the purview of the courts.

A 1959 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, NAACP v. Alabama, would’ve appeared to protect the right to privacy for members of an organization, since they might be exposed to economic and social sanctions.

In September, the U.S. Ninth Circuit of Appeals overturned a 2016 verdict in a case pitting California Attorney General Xavier Becarra against Americans for Prosperity that said that 501(c)(3) non-profits didn’t have to reveal their donor lists to the California AG’s office.

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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