In June 2019, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law a proposal known as S150. The law places reporting and disclosure requirements on 501(c)4 and 527 advocacy groups, but not on business groups or unions. The organizations identified by the law must now register with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission as “independent expenditure committees” when providing factual and opinion information about legislation to New Jersey residents. The law also requires these advocacy organizations to identify themselves as the sponsors of certain public messages and to submit personal information about those who support them to the Commission.
The Illinois Opportunity Project, a nonpartisan, 501(c)4 organization that engages in issue advocacy, filed a lawsuit to challenge this statute on the grounds it is a threat to Americans’ First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of association. The Illinois Opportunity Project is represented in this case by attorneys from the Liberty Justice Center.
All Americans have the right to privacy and should be free to support causes they believe in without excessive reporting requirements which open them up to possible harassment. Additionally, the law must be applied equally to all similar actors. The unequal disclosure and reporting requirements in New Jersey are discriminatory and effectively favor certain types of political speech and groups.
New Jersey statute requires 501(c)4 and 527 organizations to do the following or face civil penalties:
- Disclose members and supporters to the Commissioners of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.
- Provide a quarterly financial report to the Commission that includes the name, mailing address, occupation, employer and employer address for any individual contributing over a certain dollar amount to the organization.
- Include a disclaimer of issue-ad sponsorship on communications.
- Register as “independent expenditure committees” even when communications are issue-focused and do not mention candidate names.
Illinois Opportunity Project is concerned that compelled disclosure of its members and supporters could lead to substantial personal and economic repercussions for its contributors. Across the country, individual and corporate donors to political candidates and issue causes are being subject to boycotts, harassment, protests, career damage and even death threats for publicly engaging in the public square. Illinois Opportunity Project fears that its members and supporters may also encounter similar reprisals if their donations are made public, while supporters of union and business organizations are protected from the same scrutiny.
Americans for Prosperity and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey have also mounted legal challenges to the statute.