Oklahoma House advances bill barring public agencies from requiring donor information from 501(c)s

On April 6, Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall (R) placed SB1491, which would bar public agencies from requiring 501(c) nonprofits to provide them with personal information about their donors, directly on the calendar for floor consideration. The legislation had previously been waiting for action in the House Judiciary Committee. The Oklahoma State Senate, which originated the legislation, approved it unanimously on March 3.

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.

The legislature suspended its regular session effective March 23. Governor Kevin Stitt (R) called the legislature into a special session, which convened on April 6, to consider legislation addressing the COVID-19 outbreak. The legislature reconvened its regular session on May 4.

  • Oklahoma’s legislature is one of several whose regular operations have been upended as a result of the outbreak. To date, 23 states have suspended their session (in five of those states, sessions have since reconvened). For more information, see this article.

The regular session is set to reconvene today. Adjournment is slated to occur on May 29. It is unclear when SB1491 will be brought to the floor for consideration.

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

Last month, the legislatures of Utah and West Virginia enacted similar bills. Similar legislation is up for consideration in Louisiana and Tennessee.

Michigan lawmakers approved a comparable 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 47 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.

Disclosure Digest map May 4, 2020.png

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Disclosure Digest status chart May 4, 2020.png

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

Disclosure Digest partisan chart May 4, 2020.png

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.
    • Republican sponsorship.
    • Withdrawn from House Judiciary Committee and directed to calendar April 6.
  • Virginia SB979: This bill extends the applicability of the state’s campaign finance disclosure act to candidates for directors or soil and water conservation districts.
    • Republican sponsorship.
    • Signed into law April 7.