Detroit News Opinion: Protect Michigan nonprofit donors’ privacy

Following is an excerpt from an opinion editorial piece by Sean Parnell of the Philanthropy Roundtable that appeared recently in the Detroit News.

Anonymous donations to charities and other nonprofits are a deeply ingrained part of our nation’s culture of giving, stemming from reasons as varied as religious obligation, a sense of humility, a desire to avoid future solicitations, limiting family strife, and countless others.

Over the next few weeks of the Christmas season residents of Michigan and around the nation can expect to hear news reports of anonymous donors dropping gold Krugerrands into the iconic red kettles of the Salvation Army, as has happened every year at this time for decades.

Unfortunately not everyone respects the longstanding norm of privacy for nonprofit givers, in particular politicians and activists seeking to target those who disagree with them.

Read more via detroitnews.com: Opinion: Protect Michigan nonprofit donors’ privacy

Stand Up For Privacy: Adam Meyerson, Philanthropy Roundtable

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The United States is the most charitable country in the world – by far. But the American tradition of supporting causes is at risk if we don’t protect our right to donate privately.

In this video, Adam Meyerson, President of Philanthropy Roundtable, talks about why it’s important for people to have the ability to support causes privately, including for religious reasons.

With the end of the year and holiday season in mind, many people are thinking about supporting charitable organizations. Some of those donations will be made anonymously for a variety of reasons, including because of the belief that one of the highest forms of charity is when the donor and recipient are unknown to each other. But other people may choose to keep their donations anonymous to prevent additional solicitations or simply to avoid family, friends, neighbors or colleagues knowing the amount of their contributions or which charities they support.

We must protect Americans’ right to give freely and privately, where and how they want.

Municipal donor disclosure laws are a violation of our First Amendment rights

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The city of Santa Fe, New Mexico passed a law that’s one of the first of its kind in the nation (and not in a good way). The law requires 501c3 nonprofit organizations to disclose their donors to the government whenever they speak about municipal ballot propositions.

A nonprofit organization based in New Mexico, the Rio Grande Foundation, opposed the city’s proposal to impose a tax on sodas and other sugary beverages and issued a press release with a video. The city went after the Foundation in return, demanding the organization disclose their donor list for what amounted to minor commentary made within the overall election.

These kind of laws violate the First Amendment and need to be challenged. If we lose donor privacy over something as innocuous as a soda tax, how can we address more important issues facing the nation?

True Stories of Harassment and Intimidation

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No one deserves to have their private information exposed and to be threatened with violence because of their opinions. Following are stories of individuals who have experienced harassment for supporting a cause.

Wisconsin: Cindy Archer was afraid to let her dogs outside for fear they would be poisoned after her home was raided by police and the incident reported publicly. Worse yet, she was ordered not to explain the event, though charges were never brought – and all because of her political stance. Listen to Cindy’s story.

California: John Eastman is a law professor, Constitutional attorney and political activist. A few years ago, his name and the names of his organization’s donors were posted online by liberal activists. After a two-year legal battle, the IRS admitted that it had released the tax returns of his organization that included the private identities of the organization’s donors.

California: After Margie Christofferson gave $100 to a group that supported Proposition 8, a proposal in 2008 that opposed same-sex marriage, her name was made public and the restaurant where she worked was boycotted and picketed by people who support same-sex marriage. Ultimately the protests took their toll on the restaurant and she lost her job.

Pennsylvania: J. Leon Altemose was a nonunion contractor who, because of the threat of union intimidation, formed an association that kept the members’ names private. One of the companies who hired them divulged his name, and one night he was brutally attacked by union members and suffered severe brain damage.

Arizona: Darcy Olsen was the target of death threats and violence because of her organization’s position on public support of a privately-owned NHL team. Listen to Darcy’s story.

Oregon: Erious Johnson was put on a government watch list of potential threats to police for supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. They found him because he used the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag in a tweet.

People who support candidates and ballot measures are already reported to the government. Do we want to open up people who support causes and organizations to this kind of harassment, too?

Private citizens in Wisconsin were harassed because of their beliefs

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After Governor Scott Walker was elected in 2010, he was successful in bringing reforms to Wisconsin. And that upset a lot of people. As a result, government officials from groups like the Government Accountability Board worked in secret to target conservatives who supported the reforms, making their lives a living hell.

When someone’s personal information is exposed and they are harassed because of the causes they support, lives can be devastated and free speech is threatened.

Across the country, there’s a growing call to force non-profit groups to report the names and addresses of their donors to the government. The government would post this information on a public website that anyone could see. The reason activists want to see this private information is simple: they want to be able to target you for your personal beliefs.

We’re not talking about putting donations to political candidates online. That information is already reported to the government and posted on websites. We’re talking about your donations to causes and groups that you support that are doing work in your community or around the world to advance your values.

Every American has the right to support causes he or she believes in without fear of harassment and intimidation.

Watch this video to learn more about what happened in Wisconsin and share it with your friends. We need to prevent this from happening again.

Learn more: Five Years Ago Today: John Doe Raids Wisconsin