A case for donor anonymity

Wednesday, January 13, 2021
Chris Woodward (OneNewsNow.com)

lawsuit gavel with moneyThe president of the nonprofit public interest law firm that defends and promotes America's Judeo-Christian heritage and moral values says his case before the Supreme Court that will decide whether nonprofits have to list the names and addresses of their major donors to the government is especially important for religious organizations.

In the case of Thomas More Law Center v. Becerra, the Michigan-based law firm that promotes and defends traditional family values, the sanctity of human life, and other issues is required by the California attorney general to disclose the names and addresses of major donors on an annual basis.

A federal district court had ruled against the attorney general, but the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision. 

"[This requirement] violates the freedom of association and freedom of speech," Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel at Thomas More Law Center, tells One News Now. "We get involved in a lot of controversial issues, and in California what we've noticed and what has actually occurred is that thousands of these so-called confidential records of donors to nonprofit organizations have been released to the public."

According to Thompson, "there are many cases" where individuals have been identified for contributing to organizations such as Thomas More Law Center.

"They are many times disciplined by their employer, sometimes fired, sometimes lose business," Thompson continues. "So it's very important, especially for religious organizations, to maintain their donor base privately."

Why religious organizations specifically?

"We had an expert in philanthropy testify that organizations that deal with religion are most susceptible to controversy and to very deep emotional outrage from one side or the other because it's religious in nature," Thompson explains.

That is why it is more important to keep confidential such organizations' lists than it would be a list of a political organization or a business organization.

"We've had many instances where individuals donate to us anonymously because they're afraid that if their name gets out, then they will be in some way punished," the attorney relays.

Thompson, Richard (TMLC)The Internal Revenue Service requires 501(c)(3) organizations, including Thomas More Law Center, to submit a list of their major donors in order to maintain IRS standing. Thompson says that is different.

"We know that there is a law prohibiting the IRS from making any kind of public revelation of our donor list," he notes. "We don't have the same confidence in state organizations."

Thomas More Law Center is depending on a 1950s Supreme Court case in which justices said the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People did not have to provide a list of members to the attorney general of Alabama.

"The Supreme Court denied that, saying that that would violate the freedom of association," says Thompson. "It's been a very good law on the books, but California, because of its political environment, and New York, because of its political environment, and New Jersey, because of its political environment, are the three states that demand all the names of our major donors."

As of Monday, a date has not been set at the Supreme Court for argument in Thomas More Law Center v. Becerra.


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