PUFP’s Comments on Today’s U.S. Senate Subcommittee Hearing on Nonprofits

May 4, 2022

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has scheduled a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee’s Subcommittee on Taxation and IRS Oversight today, May 4, at 2:00 pm ET. The full title of the hearing is “Laws and Enforcement Governing the Political Activities of Tax Exempt Entities.”

In recent weeks, People United for Privacy has heard dangerous comments from both Republican and Democratic Members of Congress critical of groups that advocate for the beliefs of American citizens. Such rhetoric typically invokes the hollow term “dark money,” which has no legal definition and is used inconsistently and pejoratively to describe a wide range of groups and activities that the person speaking dislikes.

Many groups criticized for their advocacy on behalf of their supporters are, in fact, longstanding nonprofits supported by large and diverse memberships throughout the country – the kind of groups that set aside other policy disagreements last year to join together in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta to defend the privacy of their supporters. Some of those groups have existed for over a century and perform important work to offer valuable perspectives on government and public policy. Whether criticism of these groups comes from the left or the right, “dark money” is often just a cheap smear against nonprofit organizations that value their members’ privacy and that are working to ensure those in power hear the voices of American citizens.

It is not difficult to imagine a nonstop wave of targeting and harassment campaigns across the country if nonprofit donor information is routinely published in a searchable government database. The First Amendment would effectively be a dead letter as Americans would sacrifice their free speech rights to preserve their privacy and save themselves from lost employment, physical harm, and other forms of harassment and intimidation. Frequently, this silencing of debate appears to be exactly what nonprofit donor disclosure proponents hope to accomplish.

To the extent some members of the Subcommittee wish to propose legislative or regulatory prescriptions that would impose onerous disclosure mandates on nonprofits, we encourage Members to do the following:

  • Oppose “For the People Act” and “Freedom to Vote Act”-style donor disclosure policies.
  • Resist Congressional pressure for rulemaking efforts at the IRS that would trample nonprofit advocacy and citizen privacy.
  • Support the privacy of nonprofit donor lists by passing the “Don’t Weaponize the IRS Act” (S. 1777) and the “Simplify, Don’t Amplify the IRS Act” (S. 4046).

People United for Privacy strongly urges Members of Congress to protect nonprofit donor privacy and reject harmful donor disclosure mandates.

Read People United for Privacy’s full letter to the Senate Finance Committee’s Subcommittee on Taxation and IRS Oversight.

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