Citizen Privacy – and Bipartisanship – Win the Day in Kansas

April 15, 2022

On April 14, 2022, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly (D) signed House Bill 2109 into law, a bipartisan bill “prohibiting the disclosure of personal information about a person’s affiliation with an entity that is exempt from federal income taxation under section 501(c) of the federal internal revenue code and continuing in existence certain exceptions to the disclosure of public records under the open records act.” The initial version of the bill, which was incorporated into H.B. 2109, was sponsored and spearheaded through the House by Judiciary Committee Chairman Fred Patton (R).

“The right to give privately to causes and charities – without fear of retribution or cancellation – is protected by the United States Constitution. Unfortunately, that right is not always respected by people in positions of power who seek to target their political opponents. H.B. 2109 will ensure the citizens of Kansas can freely support the groups that are doing important work in their communities without being harassed or intimidated by elected officials and activists who might disagree with the missions of those organizations,” said Heather Lauer, Executive Director of People United for Privacy.

This important legislation, which protects the privacy and First Amendment rights of all Kansans – regardless of their beliefs – earned strong support from both sides of the aisle. The final version passed 92-20 in the House and 40-0 in the Senate.

Nonprofit organizations representing a broad range of issues and beliefs spoke favorably about the initial House version of the bill during a Kansas House Judiciary Committee hearing that took place on January 25, 2022.

Kerry Gooch of the Kansas Black Leadership Council explained that, “Fear of harassment or retaliation is why many members choose to give anonymously to many causes, especially within the African American community.” Gooch continued, “America has an independent and robust civil society unlike that of any other nation. The vitality of civil society is the long-accepted norm [enabled by] anonymous giving for philanthropic and civic purposes, and that norm should be protected in all but a very few narrow circumstances.”

James Franko, President of the Kansas Policy Institute, also spoke in support of the legislation. He explained how members of his staff have experienced harassment and threats because of his organization’s policy positions, and that kind of targeting could carry over to the Institute’s supporters if their names are exposed. “Members of KPI staff have been forced to file police reports arising from threats after we expressed opinions. We’ve also been subjected to repeated and aggressive phone calls and e-mails. Some of this is to be lamentably expected but proposals like the bill before you today help ensure that boorish behavior does not violate fundamental rights.”

Kenya Cox from the NAACP highlighted examples of anonymous donations that have been made to Kansas organizations in her testimony. Without the ability to give privately, some of these contributions may not have happened. “Just this past December, the Wichita Police Foundation received an anonymous donation of $145,000 and the funding will go to ensure the safety of local law enforcement officers. Every year around the holidays in Shawnee, the police department receives a $10,000 donation from an anonymous donor. This year, the police officers took the opportunity to brighten the day for some folks by randomly handing out $100 to people. Early last year, the city of Horton received an anonymous donation of $25,000 to put towards their ball program. Prior to this donation, due to a funding issue, the city hasn’t had a functioning ball program for the past five years.”

Brittany Jones of Kansas Family Voice discussed why some individuals may donate privately for religious reasons. “The Bible provides examples of the virtue of anonymous giving. For example, in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, ‘Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.’ Many people of faith would seek to keep donations private simply out of desire to follow this command.”

Speaking on behalf of Philanthropy Roundtable, Steven Greene also explained the beliefs—and concerns—that motivate anonymous donors. “HB 2495 would help to strengthen the vitality and breadth of civil society in the state. It would uphold a key pillar of philanthropic giving, the right of charitable donors to keep their giving private if they wish. There are a myriad of reasons Kansans may choose to keep their donations private including, but not limited to privacy concerns, religious convictions, and fear of harassment or retaliation.”

During his testimony, Thomas Witt of Equality Kansas requested to have the bill language strengthened to extend these same protections to groups “that have organized as Kansas non-profits under [state law] and those that have active applications pending for a 501(c) determination letter from the IRS.” Lawmakers granted Mr. Witt’s request in the final version of the bill. As the leading LGBTQ advocacy organization in the state, Equality Kansas supported H.B. 2109 because “many of our (c)(4) members and (c)(3) contributors are also members of a minority that lacks protections against discrimination – namely, the members of the Kansas LGBTQ community for whom we advocate and represent. Should their identities be made public, they could be subject to retaliation, harassment, and discrimination.”

While many of these groups may be on opposite sides of other policy debates, all stood united in supporting this legislation and the right to privacy in Kansans’ giving to the causes they support. People United for Privacy applauds the Kansas Legislature and especially Chairman Patton and Governor Kelly for taking this important step to protect freedom of speech and citizen privacy.

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