High Court Strikes Down California Donor Disclosure Mandate

As it wrapped up its term last week, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a blow to California and any other state interested in the bulk collection of sensitive donor data from charities. In Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta — a case consolidating suits by AFP and Thomas More Law Center (TMLC) — the high court found that “the up-front collection of Schedule Bs is facially unconstitutional” based on its chill of the First Amendment’s freedom of association. In a 6-3 decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts the court did not doubt the important interest of California’s Attorney General in preventing fraud in the nonprofit sector. However, with other demonstrably effective tools available to the state, the majority of justices found the means of the Schedule B mandate to be a dramatic mismatch” with that end.

Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan joined Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a dissent arguing that the court had gone too far. But Roberts indicated the scope and gravity of the associational concerns triggered by California’s Schedule B mandate is underscored by the diversity of organizations — groups that “span the ideological spectrum, and indeed the full range of human endeavors” — supporting AFP and TMLC.  Roberts also demonstrated that the fundamental facts leading to real and pervasive” associational deterrence in these particular cases remain the same in all other cases. Even if not every charity feels restricted, Roberts concludes that risk of chilling free association is enough to strike down the donor data mandate. Quoting court precedent, he notes “First Amendment freedoms need breathing space to survive.”

For more background on the importance of this ruling, please read ECFA’s previous coverage of this case.

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