SANTA FE, N.M. (Dec. 13, 2019) – Today two nonprofit organizations filed a federal lawsuit challenging New Mexico’s new overreaching donor disclosure law. The law limits free speech and privacy rights, and puts at risk the individuals who support nonpartisan advocacy groups.
Every American has the right to support issues they believe in without fear of harassment and retribution. However, in New Mexico citizens forfeit their privacy and have their personal information shared publicly on a government website when they donate to nonprofit, issue-advocacy groups.
The New Mexico law requires organizations that engage in issue-related speech during certain times of the year to report to the government the name, home address and donation amount for any donation over designated threshold. That information is then posted on a government website for public viewing. The law also requires these advocacy organizations to identify themselves as the sponsors on public messages and register as political committees despite engaging in issue-focused speech.
These donor disclosure requirements target private citizens and penalize them for supporting issues they believe in. To stop this unconstitutional threat to free speech, the New Mexico-based Rio Grande Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization, and the Illinois Opportunity Project, a 501(c)4 issue advocacy group, have filed a lawsuit that seeks to strike down the law. The lawsuit is Rio Grande Foundation et al. v. Oliver. The organizations are represented by attorneys from the Liberty Justice Center, best known for its 2018 Supreme Court win in the case Janus v. AFSCME.
“Every American has the right to support causes without fear of retribution or retaliation. But in New Mexico, speaking up comes at a price: your privacy,” said Patrick Hughes, president and co-founder of the Liberty Justice Center. “By naming and shaming individuals who support different viewpoints, this law effectively prevents everyday Americans from advocating for causes they believe in and favors powerful, entrenched political interests. New Mexico is stifling free speech and we will do everything we can to block this unconstitutional law.”
The new law would require nonprofit Rio Grande Foundation to register, disclose their donors to the government, and place sponsorship disclaimers on their materials. Paul Gessing, president of Rio Grande Foundation said, “We share information with New Mexicans to encourage robust policy discussions that affect change and improve lives. This law will silence important perspectives by discouraging our citizens from supporting issue-advocacy groups that promote thoughtful, rigorous debate around issues vital to our state.”
Illinois Opportunity Project plans to engage in issue advocacy in New Mexico prior to the 2020 election, but its speech will be unconstitutionally suppressed if its supporters must disclose their donations. Matthew Besler, president of the Illinois Opportunity Project said, “The Illinois Opportunity Project fights to uphold our First Amendment right of free speech so everyone is protected from retaliation and intimidation. We oppose laws that hinder our constitutional rights and will continue to fight so individuals can participate in public discourse without fear of retaliation.”
Rio Grande Foundation et al. v. Oliver was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, Santa Fe Division. The next step in the case is service of process, after which, the defendant members of the Elections Board have up to 60 days to respond to the lawsuit. The case is available here: https://libertyjusticecenter.org/cases/rio-grande-foundation-v-oliver