The First Amendment guarantees our freedom of speech. Yet cities across the country are taking steps to undermine it by forcing nonprofit organizations to disclose the names of – and personal information about – their donors, jeopardizing their privacy. Yesterday, the State of Arizona took a stand against this dangerous trend as Governor Doug Ducey signed a law to protect the free speech rights of nonprofit organizations and their donors.

Arizona’s new law bolsters privacy protections for nonprofits and nonprofit donors by creating a uniform set of rules regarding nonprofit speech that will apply statewide. This preempts cities from demanding lists of nonprofit donors, as has happened in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Denver, Colorado, where nonprofits are required to hand their donor lists over to the government if the organization educates the public about ballot initiatives. In March, the city of Tempe adopted broad election disclosure rules. The new state law prohibits Tempe from seizing donor information from nonprofits, but it leaves the remainder of the city’s new regulations in place.

Studies have shown that people are less likely to donate to charities when they fear their name and information will become part of a government list, so this law will allow more people to express their views without the concern that they could be targets of harassment or intimidation for their beliefs. And it helps ensure that our constitutional rights are protected.

“It is unconstitutional for the government to silence nonprofits by attacking the privacy of their donors,” said Matt Miller, senior attorney at the Goldwater Institute, who is representing non-profit organizations in New Mexico and Colorado in challenging their respective state’s donor disclosure laws. “During the civil-rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, the Supreme Court struck down efforts by southern states to force the NAACP to disclose the identities of donors, because it saw that such tactics are an effective way to silence nonprofit groups. That’s why donor privacy is protected by the Constitution’s guarantees of free speech and association.”

Victor Riches, President and CEO of the Goldwater Institute, says that Arizona’s new law is vitally important for Arizonans, as the state leads the country in defending the freedom of speech.

“There has been an unfortunate trend across the country of cities enacting ordinances designed to limit free speech rights. However, Arizona has taken an important step in bucking this trend,” Riches said. “Thanks to this legislation, Arizonans don’t have to worry that they could be subject to persecution because they choose to support a nonprofit organization. They can be confident that their First Amendment rights are protected.”

You can read more about the Supreme Court’s decision regarding donor privacy and the right to advocate here.

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