Supreme Court could decide to require non-profits to reveal names of top-donors

CHAMBERSBURG — A case from California has made it to the US Supreme Court and it concerns non-profit organizations being required to disclose the identity of their top contributors to state regulators.

Most states to not have that requirement and the Supreme Court is looking at the California case to decide if it’s constitutional.

The controversial case from a few years ago that came to the Supreme Court revolved around Citizen’s United, the conservative non-profit organization, which allowed political groups to NOT disclose who is making donations to them.

Attorney Clint Barkdoll, Pat Ryan and Michele Jansen discussed the issue on First News, the local – live information radio show, 6am-9am weekdays.

Barkdoll pointed out, “Of course the fear in this case is if the US Supreme Court were to uphold this California law, other states could duplicate that law which could effectively mean if you’re a non-profit, a 501 (c)(3) charitable organization, you would then have to disclose your top donors to state regulators.”

How the Supreme Court will come down on this issue remains to be seen.

“We can glean certain things from the questions that are asked during arguments, but this is one of several big cases,” Barkdoll said. “There’s another case involving certain things with guns, there’s an abortion case. All of these things will start to be rolled out by the Supreme Court between now and June 30 which is when their session ends.”

The decisions in these big cases often come down during the last few days the Court is in session.

Jansen asked, “Isn’t the problem with revealing who’s making donations is this idea that can then be used against them? We know during the Tea Party time that was the big reason. A lot of the Tea Party groups, they were being by the Obama administration at that time to give information about people involved in their groups.”

As a result, a number of groups may not get the status because they don’t want to feel like someone is watching and judging what they support.

Barkdoll said, “You have some conservative groups pointing out that they think their donors could be subjected to even violence if their identity is revealed and they’re saying that violates the first amendment. Their right to free speech should be the right to donate this money anonymously. You’re even hearing similar arguments from women’s health abortion rights groups saying that if we have to reveal the identity of people donating to our organization, it may subject them to violence. So it’s one of these unusual issues where you see people from all ends of the political spectrum saying they do not want the US Supreme Court to uphold this law. They do not want the identities of these donors to be revealed.”

What should be the decision?

Barkdoll said, “I think this law likely violates our free speech rights. Tying it back to Citizen’s United. Now that was a 5-4 decision. Very controversial decision. But that is the law of the land. That case stands for the proposition that political action committees, other types of public advocacy groups do not have to reveal the identity of their donors.”

The current case is a little different because it applies to 501(c)(3) charities.

In the news, it’s quite typical to see the local YMCA or college receiving massive donations and they are anonymous. The donor does not want his or her name revealed for whatever reason.

“I think if the Supreme Court would say you are now required to reveal their identity not only are you in a first amendment problem, but it might quell or chill the ability of some of these people wanting to give money to these charities,” Barkdoll said.