In many states, making a donation has a hidden price tag – your privacy, job and safety.
In a culture that’s willing to cancel anyone and anything that has received even the smallest finger wag (ie. Dr. Seuss), people are finding it increasingly difficult to publicly stand up for the causes that matter most to them. The price tag of losing their privacy, reputation and livelihoods is just too high.
For many, the final refuge for free speech is in using their dollars to quietly support the organizations that are fighting the public battles.
The problem: donor contributions are being made public in certain states.
In Rhode Island and New Mexico, for instance, the government requires donations to issue-advocacy groups to be posted publicly. Some states even post the supporter’s name, job title, employer, home address and donation amount on a government website.
Advocates for these “donor disclosure” laws claim that they combat the movement of “dark money.” However, the reality is that these laws stifle Americans’ First Amendment rights to support causes they believe in.
These laws don’t prevent “dark money.” They are the dark underside of politics – elected leaders using the power of the government to silence people who might challenge them or seek to hold them accountable.
For someone who dares to challenge the status quo, the only option to avoid having personal information made public is to not donate or to limit their financial support, effectively chilling their right to free speech.
There’s no such thing as free speech in America if its citizens are too afraid to exercise their rights. That’s why the Illinois Opportunity Project’s efforts to fight these laws, together with the Liberty Justice Center, have been so remarkable.
In 2019, Illinois Opportunity Project filed a lawsuit challenging an execute order requiring donor disclosure in Montana. In the lawsuit, our attorneys described how IOP planned to make paid communications by mail to thousands of Montana voters within 90 days of the 2020 general election. However, the state of Montana would require that they disclose their donors in order to do so. This could lead to substantial personal and economic repercussions for IOP’s supporters.
IOP teamed up with the Liberty Justice Center to fight the unconstitutional order.
And we have good news to report: Newly-elected Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte has ended the donor disclosure order. Gianforte pointed to the Liberty Justice Center’s lawsuit representing Illinois Opportunity Project as a reason for doing so.
“The Illinois Opportunity Project is fighting to uphold the First Amendment right of free speech,” said Matthew Besler, chairman and CEO of the Illinois Opportunity Project. “We want to thank Governor Gianforte for his leadership in standing up for freedom and Anita Milanovich and the Liberty Justice Center for working so hard to preserve our constitutional rights.”
This victory comes on the heels of LJC’s victory in New Jersey, where a federal judge struck down a controversial law that violated the privacy of donors. As a result, issue advocacy organizations in New Jersey won’t be forced to hand over to the government private information about the people who support their efforts.
Defending donor privacy is one of the clearest paths to combating today’s cancel culture. While donor disclosure laws make it possible to cut many nonprofit organizations off at the knees, the return of donor privacy makes it possible for those who can’t stand up publicly for their cause to still be able to make their voice heard through the organizations they support.
LJC is committed to fighting until Americans are free to support causes they believe in without an invasion into their privacy through excessive government reporting requirements or retribution from their opponents.