On July 1, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the consolidated case Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta in favor of the nonprofit organizations that brought the suits, holding California’s donor disclosure law to be unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment protection of freedom of association. The immediate effect of the Court’s ruling is that the Court invalidated California’s rule requiring charities registered to fundraise in the state to file with the state Attorney General an unredacted copy of IRS Form 990 Schedule B, which discloses the names and addresses of their major donors.

As we previously wrote when the Court decided to hear the case and later heard oral arguments, the case focused on two main issues: (1) the standard of review that must be applied to laws involving compelled disclosure that are challenged on First Amendment grounds, and (2) whether the law should be held unconstitutional only as applied to the two nonprofits that brought the cases, or if the law should be struck down on its face.


Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Finds California Donor Disclosure Law Unconstitutional

On April 26, 2021, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the consolidated case Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta,1 which argues that California’s donor disclosure law is unconstitutional under the First Amendment because it will discourage donors from contributing due to the fear that their names and addresses will be publicly disclosed. As we previously wrote, California requires nonprofit organizations registered to fundraise in the state to annually disclose to the California Attorney General’s Office their Schedule B donor information, which is typically filed on a confidential basis with the IRS as part of the otherwise public Form 990.

This is one of the rare cases where the Supreme Court has reviewed a case about charitable speech or charitable association. In the cases of Buckley v. Valeo and Doe v. Reed, the Supreme Court found that the standard of exacting scrutiny applies when assessing compelled disclosure in the electoral context. The Court’s questions to the parties during oral arguments probed whether California’s disclosure law would be properly reviewed under exacting scrutiny, how the standard of review should be applied, and whether the law can withstand such scrutiny facially (that is, as applied to everyone) or at least as applied to the two nonprofits that brought the cases. The case is considered by many to be vitally important, not only as it relates to disclosure of charitable donors, but as a potential “back door” into challenging rules requiring disclosure of donors under campaign finance laws.


Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments on California Donor Disclosure Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review two similar constitutional challenges to California’s law requiring that charitable organizations registered to fundraise in the state disclose the names and addresses of their major donors: Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Becerra (No. 19-251) and Thomas More Law Center v. Becerra (No. 19-255).

Dozens of nonprofits nationwide have filed briefs opposing the California law, emphasizing concerns about the privacy of their donors and the risk of public disclosure of the organizations’ Schedule B donor information, which is typically filed on a confidential basis with the IRS as part of the otherwise public Form 990. The briefs represent diverse sectors of the nonprofit industry, such as public policy, research, and educational foundations; professional membership associations; and social welfare organizations.

The key issue in the case is whether California’s law has a chilling effect on First Amendment association rights, as donors to controversial causes may fear the fallout if their identity were to be made public. The petitioners argue that California has not shown a sufficient state interest to justify these First Amendment implications.


Continue Reading Nonprofits Weigh in on California Donor Disclosure Cases Before U.S. Supreme Court

gift-1420830_640With a new administration coming into office, there will be many changes in Washington. One less noticed change comes from the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE) and will affect how you interact with new executive branch appointees and those career employees who stay on from the prior administration.

OGE recently published amendments to the executive branch gift rules, which took effect on January 1, 2017. The amendments affect some of the most common ways in which individuals and organizations engage with federal officials and employees, including receptions, widely attended gatherings, and gifts based on a family or personal relationship.

Here are some of the most significant changes:


Continue Reading Major Changes in Gift Rules Greet Trump Administration

The question of when a politically-active, nonprofit 501(c)(4) group must publicly disclose its donors has been on the front burner in various states—most, like New York and California, have called for greater regulation, while others like Arizona have loosened the reins. At the federal level, silence has been the norm because the statute is generally read as only requiring disclosure by a 501(c)(4) (or other nonprofit such as a 501(c)(6)) if a donor contributes for the purposes of funding a particular ad. The FEC has consistently deadlocked on complaints alleging either that a donor gave for the purpose of supporting an ad or that a 501(c)(4) should be treated as a political committee and disclose all of its donors.

Last week, however, details were released from an FEC enforcement matter that met this stringent test and, as a result, the Commission levied fines totaling $233,000 against three nonprofit groups for failing to identify donors behind specific advertisements. These three settlement agreements, released as a group, provide significant guidance to nonprofit 501(c)(4)s and other actors as to what type of conduct will trigger donor disclosure at the federal level.


Continue Reading The FEC Levels Fines on Nonprofits over Donor Disclosure

Long before Citizens United allowed corporations to fund independent expenditures to support candidates, the Supreme Court allowed corporations to contribute to ballot measure committees. Until recently, disclosure was a fairly straightforward matter: give to the official committees supporting or opposing the measure and the contribution would be disclosed; give to other entities (like a nonprofit) that give to the official committees, and the corporation’s contribution would not be disclosed. After Citizens United, however, states’ fear of corporate involvement in candidate races led many states to require disclosure of “upstream” contributions. Those changes often applied not only to contributions for candidate independent expenditures, but also to contributions for ballot measures.

We have written about California before. Recently, Washington State has focused on the intermediary issue of when a nonprofit must disclose its donors. A trial court in Washington State ruled that a trade association should have registered itself as a ballot measure committee based on a special project it undertook to challenge state initiatives about food labeling. The result of this decision is that member companies had to disclose their contributions to the association for the special project.
Continue Reading Ballot Initiative Disclosure

nomoneyThe Federal Election Commission recently concluded an investigation into contributions from a Canadian citizen to a candidate for governor. Why would the FEC investigate a state contribution? Because the ban on contributions from foreign nationals applies not just to federal candidates, but to state and local candidates as well.

The FEC dismissed the case because the state candidate did not know the contributions were illegal. In fact, he had checked with state election officials, who told him there was no issue under state law. There wasn’t, but there was an issue under federal law.

Foreign nationals are individuals who are not U.S. citizens or non-citizens who do not have permanent resident (i.e., green card) status, as well as any companies incorporated, organized, or located abroad. U.S. citizens living in other countries are permitted to contribute.


Continue Reading Don’t Forget: Recent FEC Case Is a Reminder That Federal Law Prohibits Contributions at the State and Local Levels Too

As we get closer and closer to the elections, candidates will be working harder and harder to raise money. One tried and true method is the fundraiser: an individual agrees to put together an event where his or her closest friends will make substantial contributions to the candidate, attend a breakfast, lunch, cocktails, or dinner, meet the candidate, and, if they contribute enough, get a picture with the candidate. While this may seem simple and straightforward, companies often get into trouble when they use their corporate resources to help put on fundraisers.

The largest fine in FEC history ($3.8 million) came as a result of corporate facilitation back in 2006. Others have followed. The FEC just unveiled an enforcement case involving a Nevada architectural firm that paid a substantial fine for using corporate resources to hold a fundraiser. The settlement provides a good example of how not to fundraise for federal candidates. 
Continue Reading Hosting Fundraisers: One Company’s Example of How Not to Do it

presentThe Office of Government Ethics (OGE) has proposed revisions to the gift rules for executive branch employees. Although some of the proposed changes are meant to bring clarity without changing the rules’ substance, several changes will result in new restrictions on the “gifts” that flow from day-to-day interactions companies and associations have with officials. Overall, the changes do little to bring further clarity, and do a lot to cloud the waters of when certain gifts are permissible.

It is important to remember that a gift is broadly defined to include anything of value. Most entities with any business or policy issue before an agency are considered prohibited sources, and may not give any gifts unless an exemption applies. Thus, attendance at events, food and drink, attendance at receptions, and commemorative plaques are all considered to be gifts subject to restrictions on whether executive branch employees may accept them. 
Continue Reading The Office of Government Ethics Proposes Changes to the Gift Rules: How the Changes Could Limit Interaction With Government Officials