by Jennifer Tiedemann

Last week, Governor Doug Ducey signed HB 2153 into law—and that’s a big win for free expression in Arizona.

Across the country, there’s been a growing trend against free speech, with cities like Denver and Santa Fe enacting ordinances to squelch the ability of nonprofits and their donors to speak out on issues of importance to them. And the Grand Canyon State hasn’t been immune to this trend: Tempe recently passed its own donor disclosure ordinance. But with the signing of HB 2153, donors’ right to privacy in Arizona has been strengthened and secured. Nonprofits will be able to more freely speak about important ballot initiatives, and voters will be more informed when they go to the ballot box.

First introduced in mid-January, HB 2153 creates a set of statewide rules to govern nonprofit speech, so cities and towns can’t put local ordinances in place to block that speech. Tempe, for example, can no longer require nonprofits to give up donor information.

Our own Jon Riches joined Steve Goldstein on KJZZ this week to talk about the new statewide donor privacy law. In a preceding interview, former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard argued that the new law has nothing to do with free speech, but Riches explained that free speech is indeed at the core of it:

This is definitely not a left-right issue. This is a constitutional issue, this is a free speech issue, this is a right to association issue. Look, here’s why this is important for the state to pass what the state passed. You can’t have every city in the state coming up with its own regulations on nonprofit organizations when those organizations want to speak about issues that are important to them. Tempe could have one rule, and Phoenix could have another, and Scottsdale might have another, and ultimately what happens is people who want to talk don’t know what they can say and what they can’t say, and as a result, we get less free speech. And the government shouldn’t be discouraging free speech or encouraging people not to speak.

In the United States, we have some “really painful lessons” as to why protecting donor privacy is important, Riches explained. In the 1950s, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the right to private association and not to report those associations to the government, after the Alabama Attorney General tried to demand the names, addresses, and membership list of the NAACP in order to target the organization and its supporters. (For more on this case and its implications for free speech rights, read Matt Miller’s excellent paper from earlier this year.)

By enacting the new law, Arizona is standing against the tide of anti-free speech donor disclosure ordinances. As Riches said in his KJZZ interview, “under these sorts of donor disclosure demands”—the likes of which exist in Denver and Santa Fe—“you would in many instances have the government telling nonprofit groups to come in and scrape the word ‘anonymous’ off of their donor wall, and I don’t think we want to see that in this country.”

You can listen to Jon’s full appearance here.

Jennifer Tiedemann is the communications manager at the Goldwater Institute.