Why This Matters

Across the country there’s a growing call to force non-profit groups like the Salvation Army, NRA, Sierra Club, and even some churches, 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 they believe in without fear of harassment or intimidation.

To keep that right a reality, we must protect individual privacy. We must protect people’s ability to come together in support of their shared values. We must protect the resources organizations need to make their voices heard.

During the fight for Civil Rights for African Americans, the state of Alabama tried to force the NAACP to report the names and addresses of their supporters to the government. The NAACP knew that if their membership list was made public, those people would be targeted for harassment, intimidation, and even violence. So, they fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won. The Supreme Court said that donations to private organizations like the NAACP—even if they take a position on political issues—can remain private so that people’s safety was protected.

These same issues still exist today.  You may recall that not long ago, a man went to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and went on a shooting rampage. He shot and tragically killed three people and wounded nine others because of his views against Planned Parenthood. If the law in Colorado required the name and addresses of all donors to that Planned Parenthood be made public, that man would have known where others who supported the organization lived in the community and the tragedy could have been much worse.

Just as the right to pull the curtain closed behind us as we vote for our chosen candidates is sacrosanct, so too is our right to support charities and interest groups without the government standing over our shoulder and sharing the information with the wider world.

The politicians and activist groups pushing such initiatives say these efforts are designed to “get money out of politics” and “eliminate dark money.” While most Americans might be eager to support an initiative framed in such a way, make no mistake about what such a law would mean in practice: Your donation to Planned Parenthood? It’s in a searchable database online, along with your name and home address. Your financial support for or against a controversial issue like same sex marriage? It’s on a publicly searchable government list. Do you pay dues to be a member of the National Rifle Association or send money to the Sierra Club? Your neighbors can Google you to find out.

To change our laws to subject people to the chilling effects of having their privacy invaded and their personal information compiled in government databases and Google searches is not the way our democracy should operate.