Bipartisan Privacy Reform Passes in Kentucky and Indiana

May 5, 2023 | Luke Wachob

Two more states just made it safer for citizens to exercise their First Amendment rights. Kentucky and Indiana became the 15th and 16th states to adopt the Personal Privacy Protection Act (PPPA) when S.B. 62 and H.B. 1212, respectively, became law this spring. The bills protect Americans against unlawful disclosures of their personal information when giving to nonprofits.

The PPPA is an increasingly popular response to the trends of doxing and cancel culture, wherein malicious actors weaponize public records and target Americans for harassment based on their beliefs. These actions undermine free speech and jeopardize the ability and willingness of citizens to support the causes of their choice. Drawing on recent Supreme Court precedent, the PPPA addresses the problem at its root by prohibiting state agencies from arbitrarily collecting, demanding, or releasing nonprofit donation or membership records.

Demonstrating the broad popularity of the PPPA and donor privacy generally, both bills achieved bipartisan support from lawmakers and were received enthusiastically by the nonprofit community. In Kentucky, S.B. 62 sailed through the Senate by a vote of 31-3 and the House 93-6 prior to becoming law on March 29. In Indiana, H.B. 1212 performed just as strongly. In its final form, the measure cleared the House by a robust bipartisan vote of 74-20 and passed the 50-member Senate nearly unanimously by a vote of 48-1. (A companion bill to H.B. 1212, S.B. 303, passed the Senate unanimously.) Governor Eric Holcomb signed H.B. 1212 into law on May 4.

“In a 2021 Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance survey, nearly 70% of Americans said privacy concerns are important to them when making charitable donations,” noted Claudia Cummings, President and CEO of the Indiana Philanthropy Alliance, in The Indianapolis Star.

“Donors can choose which charities to support, or give to none at all. And no one has a right to force them – or organizations to which they donate – to reveal that information,” argued Jim Waters, President and CEO of the Kentucky-based Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, in a column for the Richmond Register. In addition to the Bluegrass Institute, the Kentucky PPPA was supported by the ACLU of Kentucky, Americans for Prosperity, Family Scholar House, Kentucky Right to Life, Philanthropy Roundtable, and Planned Parenthood, among others.

The PPPA has picked up considerable steam in the U.S. ever since the Supreme Court’s 2021 decision in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta. In that case, California’s dragnet demand for nonprofit donor lists was ruled unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Many current state disclosure laws are likely unconstitutional under AFPF because they put nonprofit donor information at risk.

In response to the Court’s ruling, as well as concerns about our increasingly tense political atmosphere, a number of states have sought to strengthen protections for Americans who join together with like-minded individuals to exercise their First Amendment rights. Kentucky and Indiana are the latest states to join this trend, but they aren’t alone in standing up for privacy this legislative session.

West Virginia recently revised its campaign finance and grassroots lobbying laws to better protect nonprofit supporters against public disclosure and harassment. In New Jersey, a sweeping campaign finance bill was amended by lawmakers to limit nonprofit donors’ risk of unnecessary exposure. And in New Mexico, North Dakota, and Virginia, bills threatening nonprofit donor privacy were defeated.

Where privacy is not protected, political disagreements can devolve into efforts to destroy a person’s career and reputation. When Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro blasted out a list of his constituents who contributed to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, they were flooded with threatening phone calls. When donors to the 2022 trucker protests in Canada were exposed in a leak, some were forced to temporarily close their businesses to protect their livelihood and employees’ safety.

No one should have to be subjected to those kind of risks to support a cause in modern-day America. The PPPA is an important step states can take towards living up to that ideal. Policymakers shouldn’t stand idly by as free speech is silenced through threats and pressure campaigns.

Fortunately, lawmakers in states across the country are heeding the call. Thanks to the PPPA, over 68 million Americans in 16 states will be able to privately support the causes they believe in without fear of being targeted and harassed for their beliefs or having their personal information disclosed to potentially hostile or reckless state officials. People United for Privacy applauds lawmakers in both states, in particular bill sponsors Senator Whitney Westerfield in Kentucky and Speaker Pro Tempore Mike Karickhoff and Senator Liz Brown in Indiana, whose leadership is chiefly responsible for protecting the First Amendment and striking a blow against cancel culture.

If recent history is any guide, we’re optimistic more legislators will join the trend and help make the personal privacy of their constituents a priority in all 50 states.