Oklahoma lawmakers advance bill barring public agencies from requiring donor information from 501(c)s

On March 3, the Oklahoma State Senate voted unanimously to approve SB1491, which would bar public agencies from requiring 501(c) nonprofits to provide them with personal information about their donors.

What does the bill propose?

SB1491 would bar any public agency from requiring a nonprofit 501(c) group to provide the agency with personal affiliation information about its donors. The legislation would also prohibit a public agency from publicly disclosing any such information it might have and exempt personal affiliation information from disclosure under the state’s open records law.

The legislation defines “public agencies” and “personal affiliation information” as follows:

  • “Public agency” definition: any state or local governmental unit.
  • “Personal affiliation information” definition: any “list, record, register, registry, roll, roster, or other compilation of data of any kind that directly or indirectly identifies a person as a member, supporter or volunteer of, or donor of financial or nonfinancial support to, any entity organized under Section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code.”

Under SB1491, a knowing violation of these provisions would constitute a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $1,000 fine, imprisonment for up to 90 days, or both.

What is the political context, and what comes next?

Oklahoma is a Republican trifecta, meaning Republicans control the governorship and majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.

On March 4, the Senate sent SB1491 to the Oklahoma House of Representatives where it was read for the first time. On March 17, it was read for a second time and referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Have other states considered similar legislation? What were the reactions?

Michigan lawmakers approved a similar bill, SB1176, in 2018. Governor Rick Snyder (R) vetoed it; the legislature did not override the veto.

  • In an op-ed for The Detroit News, Sean Parnell, vice-president of public policy for the Philanthropy Roundtable, wrote: “Michiganians are no stranger to anonymous giving, whether it’s the tens of millions of dollars given to support the Kalamazoo Promise or the numerous small anonymous gifts made through sites like GoFundMe.com. The Personal Privacy Protection Act ensures these and countless other acts of kindness can remain private if the giver wishes, while doing nothing to undermine Michigan’s laws regarding disclosure of campaign donations or punishing fraud by nonprofits. If Michigan wants to continue to encourage philanthropic giving, passage of this bill should be a priority..”
  • Opposing the bill, the Campaign Legal Center’s Erin Cholpak wrote, “While other states have been working to close loopholes that have allowed the increasing role of dark money in election campaigns, SB 1176 would codify those loopholes as enforceable law in Michigan. … And even if SB 1176 ultimately exempts campaign finance disclosure requirements from its broad disclosure ban, the bill will still make it easier for Michigan lawmakers to hide any conflicts of interest and could facilitate a rise of pay-to-play politics by shielding such arrangements from public scrutiny.”

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state: We’re currently tracking 45 pieces of legislation dealing with donor disclosure. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking.

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Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

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Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s)

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Recent legislative actions

Below is a complete list of legislative actions taken on relevant bills since our last issue. Bills are listed in alphabetical order, first by state then by bill number.

  • Oklahoma SB1491: This bill would prohibit public agencies from requiring 501(c) entities to furnish them with personal information about donors.
    • Referred to House Judiciary Committee March 17.
    • Republican sponsorship.
  • Tennessee HB2665: This bill would prohibit public agencies from requiring 501(c) entities to furnish them with personal information about donors.
    • House Constitutional Protections and Sentencing Subcommittee hearing scheduled for March 17 canceled.
    • Republican sponsorship.