(C) Reuters. Television news photographers prepare to cover the final opinions of the current court’s term at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. July 1, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in favor of two conservative groups that challenged a California requirement that tax-exempt charities disclose to the state the identity of their top financial donors.
The justices, in a 6-3 ruling, sided with the two nonprofit groups – the Americans for Prosperity Foundation and the Thomas More Law Center – in finding that the California attorney general’s policy, in place for the past decade, violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and association.
The court’s six conservatives were in the majority, with the three liberal members dissenting.
“We are left to conclude that the Attorney General’s disclosure requirement imposes a widespread burden on donors’ associational rights,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the ruling.
The decision could make it easier for groups to withhold donor identities in other contexts. The Supreme Court in the past has been hostile to political campaign finance restrictions – it ruled in 2010 that corporations and other outside groups could spend unlimited funds in elections – but has upheld disclosure requirements.
“Today’s analysis marks reporting and disclosure requirements with a bull’s-eye. Regulated entities who wish to avoid their obligations can do so by vaguely waving toward First Amendment ‘privacy concerns,'” liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a dissenting opinion.
Democratic-governed California, the most populous U.S. state, has said the donor information is required as part of the state attorney general’s duty to prevent charitable fraud.
The Thomas More Law Center is a conservative Catholic legal group. The Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which funds education and training on conservative issues, is the sister organization of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group – both founded by conservative billionaire businessman Charles Koch and his late brother David.
The two challengers, backed by an array of nonprofit organizations from across the ideological spectrum, have said that their donors could face harassment or threats if their identities become public.
California requires that charities provide a copy of the tax form they file with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service that lists donors who contribute big amounts of money. Larger groups must disclose donors who contribute $200,000 or more in any year. That information is not posted online and is kept confidential but some has been disclosed in the past.
The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2018 reversed a federal judge’s ruling in favor of the groups, prompting the appeal to the Supreme Court, which heard arguments https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-supreme-court-weighs-conservative-groups-bid-conceal-donors-2021-04-26 in March.
U.S. Supreme Court backs conservatives against California donor disclosure
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