Supreme Court Agrees With ALF That California Law Compelling Disclosure of Nonprofit Donors Is Unconstitutional

The Supreme Court today issued an opinion in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta, No. 19-251, holding that a California statute requiring charitable organizations to annually disclose their major donors to the California Attorney General’s Office is a facially unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment “right to associate.” The Court’s 6 to 3 opinion aligns with the amicus brief jointly submitted by the National Association of Manufacturers and the Atlantic Legal Foundation, along with several trade associations.

The Court explained that “Protected association furthers a wide variety of political, social, economic, educational, religious, and cultural ends,” and “is especially important in preserving political and cultural diversity and in shielding dissident expression from suppression by the majority.” According to the Court, California’s “compelled disclosure” law is unconstitutional on its face because it “casts a dragnet for sensitive donor information from tens of thousands of charities each year, even though that information will become relevant in only a small number of cases” in which the California Attorney General identifies fraudulent activity.

The Court took the unusual step of acknowledging the outpouring of amicus support for the constitutional challenge to the California law:

The gravity of the privacy concerns in this context is further underscored by the filings of hundreds of organizations as amici curiae in support of the petitioners. Far from representing uniquely sensitive causes, these organizations span the ideological spectrum, and indeed the full range of human endeavors.

The joint amicus brief in which Atlantic Legal Foundation participated highlights the chilling effect that compelled disclosure of donors has on their willingness or ability to engage in collective and sometimes unpopular or controversial advocacy, and would subject them to retaliation, harassment, or worse.

In ruling that the California disclosure law is an overly broad way to address the State’s interest, the Court noted “It is irrelevant . . . that some donors might not mind—or might even prefer—the disclosure of their identities to the State.” As Atlantic Legal indicated in its amicus brief:

Although the ALF chooses to disclose in its annual reports the names of the foundations, companies, law firms, and individuals that provide financial support [unless they request anonymity], the Foundation recognizes the important value of the First Amendment right to anonymity. ALF supports the rights of other organizations to use anonymity to enable their members and donors to exercise their speech and association rights.

The Atlantic Legal Foundation is pleased to have played a part in achieving this important First Amendment victory not only for myriad nonprofit organizations, but also for their millions of members and supporters.

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