First Amendment

Right of association isn't infringed by disclosure of charitable donors to state, 9th Circuit says

  • Print.


A public interest law firm and a charitable group co-founded by the Koch brothers have to comply with the California attorney general’s demand for information regarding top charitable donors, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that there was no showing of a significant First Amendment burden to the right of free association. The court ruled in a challenge by the Thomas More Law Center and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

The Los Angeles Times, Courthouse News Service, Bloomberg News, the Washington Post and Politico have stories.

California law requires the attorney general to maintain a registry of charities, and authorizes the attorney general to obtain information to maintain the registry. The attorney general requires charities on the registry to submit federal tax forms listing the names and addresses of their largest donors.

The charities had argued the requirement chills donor contributions, despite a ban on public release of the information. When individuals are deterred from making contributions, the charities’ right of free association is violated, they had claimed.

Circuit Judge Raymond Fisher wrote in the Sept. 11 opinion that the “mere possibility that some contributors may choose to withhold their support does not establish a substantial burden on First Amendment rights.” The opinion said the law is substantially related to an important state interest in policing charitable fraud.

Donor information is “collected solely for nonpublic use, and the risk of inadvertent public disclosure is slight,” Fisher wrote. “Nothing is perfectly secure on the internet in 2018, and the attorney general’s data are no exception, but this factor alone does not establish a significant risk of public disclosure.”

The combined cases are Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Becerra, and Thomas More Law Center v. Becerra.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.