In 2015, then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris demanded that nonprofits located in the state reveal from where and whom they received donations.
While Harris argued at the time that the requirement was reasonable, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear last week that it doesn’t agree, with PJ Media reporting that the high court struck down the Harris-backed Californial donor disclosure requirement.
In a 6–3 ruling, the Supreme Court declared on Thursday that California’s disclosure requirement “burdens donors’ First Amendment rights and is not narrowly tailored to an important government interest.”
A “chilling effect”
Writing in an opinion for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts dismissed the state’s argument that learning who donates to nonprofit organizations is a necessary measure to stop criminal malfeasance.
Roberts wrote: “California’s interest is less in investigating fraud and more in ease of administration. This interest, however, cannot justify the disclosure requirement.”
The chief justice pointed to the state’s history of leaking personal information and noted that this could have a “chilling effect” on those who might otherwise wish to support various nonprofit causes.
“When it comes to the freedom of association, the protections of the First Amendment are triggered not only by actual restrictions on an individual’s ability to join with others to further shared goals,” Roberts explained, adding: “The risk of a chilling effect on association is enough, because First Amendment freedoms need breathing space to survive.”
Potential for donor harassment
Roberts noted that the chilling effect could emerge from fear of politically motivated retribution, a phenomenon that appears to have become more common in recent years.
“Such risks are heightened in the 21st century and seem to grow with each passing year, as ‘anyone with access to a computer [can] compile a wealth of information about’ anyone else, including such sensitive details as a person’s home address or the school attended by his children,” the chief justice wrote.
One of the plaintiffs challenging California’s reporting requirement included Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a conservative group. As PJ Media noted, the group’s vice president spoke in 2016 with regard to some of the threats faced by potential donors as a result of the disclosure requirement.
“They’re just horrible, and I’ll just relate one typical thing that we showed in that courtroom,” Victor Benson recalled. “It was a video game produced by the Left, and the concept of the game is an active shooter goes into AFP headquarters, and you get points for killing AFP personnel.”
Fox News reported that Harris offered no response to the Supreme Court’s ruling and ignored the network’s request for comment.