WASHINGTON (July 1, 2021)—Today, in a 6 to 3 decision, the Supreme Court struck down a California law that required all nonprofit groups in the state to reveal to the government the identities and addresses of their major donors who contributed more than $5,000 in a tax year (or more than 2 percent of the organization’s total contributions).

“Today’s ruling is a win for privacy and free speech. Mandatory donor disclosure would have seriously hindered the abilities of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the more recent LGBTQ+ rights movement to achieve their historic victories. The right to speak freely includes the right to speak anonymously. And giving to a charity is, undoubtedly, a form of speech,” said Eli Lehrer, president of the R Street Institute.

While the collected donor information would not have been meant for public consumption, there have been occasions in the past when donor information has become public.

On the issue of donor confidentiality, Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, noted, “After two full bench trials, the [lower] court found that the Attorney General’s promise of confidentiality “rings hollow,” and that “[d]onors and potential donors would be reasonably justified in a fear of disclosure.”

He continued, “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: from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Proposition 8 Legal Defense Fund; from the Council on American-Islamic Relations to the Zionist Organization of America; from Feeding America—Eastern Wisconsin to PBS Reno. The deterrent effect feared by these organizations is real and pervasive, even if their concerns are not shared by every single charity operating or raising funds in California.”

And Roberts closed the majority opinion with a clear-throated defense of the First Amendment: “When it comes to the freedom of association, the protections of the First Amendment are triggered not only by actual restrictions on an individual’s ability to join with others to further shared goals. The risk of a chilling effect on association is enough, ‘[b]ecause First Amendment freedoms need breathing space to survive.’”

Read the decision in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta here.

Featured Publications