Donor privacy receives bipartisan support

Law & Principles

Ray Carter | February 19, 2020

Donor privacy receives bipartisan support

Ray Carter

Legislation to protect Oklahomans’ privacy when citizens support political causes has received strong bipartisan support in a Senate committee.

Senate Bill 1491, by Sen. Julie Daniels, creates the “Personal Privacy Protection Act.” The legislation would prohibit a state agency from compelling “the release of personal affiliation information” for those who donate to various entities, including political advocacy groups. The bill does not change state law requiring public reporting of donors to state political candidates.

Daniels, R-Bartlesville, said the legislation is “designed to protect First Amendment rights of speech and association in terms of the causes of our choice that we support.”

“In some places in the United States, there have been attempts to chill these First Amendment rights by requiring the provision of membership, names, lists, donors,” Daniels said. “And this bill is designed to make sure that public entities, described in this bill as public agencies, do not do that—and if they do, it provides for remedy for those whose rights are violated.”

She noted the classic example of this abuse occurred in the 1950s when the state of Alabama tried to compel the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to make public its membership lists at a time the group was advocating for civil rights in that state.

“There was constant harassment of members of the NAACP to provide their donor lists and their membership lists to those who may have had some ill intent in having that information,” Daniels noted.

In 1959, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the NAACP, ruling, “Inviolability of privacy in group association may in many circumstances be indispensable to preservation of freedom of association, particularly where a group espouses dissident beliefs.”

Similarly, Daniels noted the Internal Revenue Service improperly disclosed tea party membership lists during the Obama administration, and that efforts have been made at the state level to force donors to political advocacy organizations to be publicly identified.

“In 2016, our own Legislature proposed a bill to require disclosure of donors to ballot initiatives,” Daniels said, “and while I sometimes would like to know who the donors are of ballot initiatives with which I disagree, I know that I do not want them to know about my participation in ballot initiatives.”

SB 1491 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a bipartisan 10-0 vote.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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