The Best of 2022 in Free Speech and Citizen Privacy

October 21, 2022 | PUFP Staff

Earlier this week, we covered the worst of 2022 in free speech and citizen privacy. To cap off this year’s Free Speech Week, we’re taking a look at the best and ending on a high note. While there is a lot to be concerned about with efforts around the country to target nonprofit donors and harm organizations’ advocacy, there are many bright spots as well. People United for Privacy (PUFP) is making significant progress through our work to educate policymakers at the state and federal level – as well as the nonprofit community and the public – about the importance of protecting citizen privacy and defending our First Amendment rights.

Bipartisan coalitions in four states pass proactive measures protecting citizen privacy.

The Personal Privacy Protection Act (PPPA) is gaining momentum in the states – and among lawmakers in both parties – as a commonsense safeguard for Americans’ personal information when supporting nonprofit causes. While each state’s version of the law varies to fit its particular needs, the fundamental principle is always the same: The PPPA prohibits state agencies and officials from demanding or publicly disclosing information about an individual’s support for nonprofit causes.

This protection is vital for Americans who fear harassment for their beliefs, give privately for religious or philanthropic reasons, or simply value their privacy. As the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized, citizen privacy is an essential component of the First Amendment right to join together with fellow Americans in support of a cause. The PPPA is one proactive measure states can adopt to safeguard this fundamental liberty.

In 2022, bipartisan coalitions helped pass the PPPA in four states, bringing the total number of states with some version of the law on their books to 14. Americans who support nonprofits in these states receive an important layer of protection for their giving in comparison to other states.

  • Virginia

Virginia got things started in 2022 when Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) signed House Bill 970 into law on April 11. The bill received strong bipartisan support in its journey through the Virginia General Assembly, where Republicans control the House of Delegates and Democrats control the Senate. Members from both parties supported H.B. 970 in both chambers, and the bill passed through the Senate unanimously.

“Ensuring the right of all Virginians to privately donate to the causes they support without fearing their personal information will be handed over to the government and potentially used against them is crucial to a healthy democracy. House Bill 970 protects this private information and expands philanthropic freedom across Virginia,” said Heather Lauer, Executive Director of PUFP.

“Every American should be free to peacefully support causes they believe in without fear of harassment or intimidation. H.B. 970 is an important step in guaranteeing privacy protections for all Virginians in a manner consistent with last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision” in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta, said Zack Pruitt, a Senior Counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom.

In early August, Governor Youngkin signed H.B. 970’s near-identical companion into law, Senate Bill 324. Though functionally the same, S.B. 324 now supersedes H.B. 970. Now that H.B. 970 and S.B. 324 have been signed into law, all Virginians – regardless of their beliefs – will be able to donate to the causes and nonprofits they support with confidence that their personal information will remain private from state officials and others who may disagree with their views. In turn, nonprofits will be free to speak their mind without fear of exposing their members to harassment and other forms of retaliation from the government.

  • Kansas

Just a few days after Virginia passed its PPPA law, the Sunflower State kept the momentum going when Kansas Governor Laura Kelly (D) signed House Bill 2109 into law on April 14. The legislation passed with robust bipartisan majorities of 40-0 in the Senate and 92-20 in the House. Nonprofit organizations representing a broad range of issues and beliefs spoke out in favor of the bill and the importance of privacy to their missions.

“Fear of harassment or retaliation is why many members choose to give anonymously to many causes, especially within the African American community,” explained Kerry Gooch of the Kansas Black Leadership Council. “Forced disclosure would chill charitable giving and threaten all the good work charitable organizations do for the Kansas community.”

James Franko, President of the Kansas Policy Institute, noted that members of his staff have experienced harassment and threats because of his organization’s policy positions. That kind of targeting, he feared, could carry over to the Institute’s supporters if their names are exposed.

Other organizations supporting the bill included Equality Kansas, Kansas Family Voice, the NAACP of Kansas, and Philanthropy Roundtable. Notably, Governor Kelly became the second Democratic governor to sign the PPPA into law to date, after Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards in 2020, ensuring that all Kansans will be free to join and support nonprofit organizations without fear of exposure and retaliation from government officials.

  • Missouri

The PPPA overcame extreme odds to become law in Missouri this year. Over the course of the 2022 regular session, the General Assembly introduced over 2,300 bills, of which only 74 reached Governor Mike Parson’s desk. The PPPA was one of the few to make the cut and become law.

It was yet another sweeping victory for the legislation, which passed 129-13 in the House and 27-6 in the Senate. As in Virginia and Kansas, the bill was supported by nonprofit causes across the spectrum, including PUFP, Alliance Defending Freedom, ACLU of Missouri, Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, CanaMO Solutions, Concerned Women for America of Missouri, Institute for Free Speech, and Philanthropy Roundtable.

“Donor privacy is an important issue that we have been working to protect for several years,” explained Representative Jered Taylor, the bill’s original sponsor in the House. “Donors to 501(c) organizations in Missouri can now exercise their First Amendment right without fear of a government official releasing their personal information. It’s a huge step to protect Missourians, and I’m glad I was part of the team who got it done.”

The ACLU of Missouri’s Jeff Smith applauded the measure’s passage as well. “At this time when Americans’ freedoms and basic privacy are gravely threatened, I appreciate Representative Taylor and Senator Crawford coming forward to help ensure that the identifies of nonprofit donors remain private. It was a pleasure to work with allies from across the political spectrum on this important legislation,” Smith said.

  • New Hampshire

Last but certainly not least, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu (R) signed Senate Bill 302 into law in late July. The bill received strong bipartisan support in both chambers of the New Hampshire General Court, ultimately passing by voice vote. Once again, an impressive array of nonprofit causes showed up to support the PPPA at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. They included PUFP, ACLU of New Hampshire, Americans for Prosperity – New Hampshire, National Federation of Independent Businesses, New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, and Philanthropy Roundtable.

Speaking in support of the bill, Senator William Gannon (R) noted that “donors may wish to remain anonymous due to religious beliefs, a desire to avoid unwanted solicitation, an inclination to keep the spotlight off themselves, or fear of reprisals for giving to certain groups” and stated that the PPPA will “ensure that individual donors to nonprofit organizations have the right to [give] anonymously.”

He cautioned that New Hampshire should pass the PPPA to avoid a California-like outcome, “dealing with an expensive seven-year lawsuit” that ultimately ends in failure because of a state official’s demand for Americans’ nonprofit giving history. Now that the PPPA is law, New Hampshire and its residents won’t have to worry about that threat anymore.

Key protections for free speech and privacy included in American Confidence in Elections (ACE) Act in Congress.

While the states saw the most significant activity protecting citizen privacy, there were positive developments on Capitol Hill too. Four key proposals to protect citizen privacy were incorporated into the American Confidence in Elections (ACE) Act, introduced by Congressman Rodney Davis (R-IL) in late July via H.R. 8528. Many leading Members of Congress have cosponsored the bill, including Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and Republican Whip Steve Scalise. PUFP Vice President Matt Nese congratulated Davis and all Members supporting the bill’s privacy provisions in remarks at an introduction event:

“This issue may seem partisan in Congress, but it’s not partisan in real life… Nonprofits may often disagree on various policy issues, but they’re united in agreement on protecting the privacy of their supporters. This is easy to understand. Americans who choose to give to nonprofit causes do so because those organizations can more effectively and efficiently communicate their views.”

A coalition of nearly 70 nonprofits agreed, signing a letter to House leaders PUFP organized in support of the ACE Act’s strong protections for citizen privacy. As the letter explains:

“The free speech provisions in the ACE Act would defend the vital role nonprofit organizations serve in encouraging free speech and the free exchange of ideas. Privately supporting causes – and the organizations advancing those causes – is a fundamental freedom protected by the First Amendment…  These reforms will protect millions of Americans across the country, who cherish and rely on the right to privately support causes they believe in without fear of harassment and intimidation, as well as the diverse causes they support, including the undersigned individuals and organizations.”

The ACE Act’s pro-free speech provisions would codify recent Supreme Court rulings on citizen privacy, make permanent a recent pro-privacy reform by the Treasury Department, stop the IRS from creating new speech-limiting rules for nonprofits, and bar the SEC from forcing companies to publicly disclose their giving to nonprofits and membership in trade associations. While the House has yet to act on the bill, the inclusion of these provisions is an important recognition of the crucial role citizen privacy and free speech play in our democracy. We look forward to continued debate and progress on these and other pro-privacy proposals in the years to come.

Disclosure threats defeated in Congress and the states – again.

Some unscrupulous politicians tried their hardest to get their hands on Americans’ membership and charitable giving information in 2022. But the vast majority of threats were turned away by a powerful and growing coalition of citizens, nonprofits, and elected officials committed to the principles of citizen privacy and free speech. From the DISCLOSE Act to the so-called “Freedom to Vote Act” to numerous state proposals, we saw threat after threat to First Amendment rights repelled by brave Americans standing up for their rights.

As we continue to advocate proactive solutions for safeguarding Americans’ giving to nonprofits, we must also stay vigilant in defense of new threats to our liberty. Politicians and political operatives will always look for ways to gain an edge over their opposition and squelch the speech of their critics. Together, we can ensure that 2023 is another losing year for the censors.

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One year after the Supreme Court’s momentous endorsement of citizen privacy in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta, it seems more Americans than ever are becoming aware of the vital link between citizen privacy and free speech. As we move closer to 2023, we look forward to more progress on the PPPA, more bipartisan support at the state level and in Congress for protecting Americans’ personal information when giving to nonprofits, and an even greater commitment to meeting threats to our First Amendment rights head-on.

We hope you will join us in this important fight.