Tennessee lawmakers consider bills limiting disclosure of nonprofit donor information

Legislation introduced last week in Tennessee would prohibit  a public agency from disclosing identifying information about a nonprofit’s donors. 

What the bill proposes

SB1608  would bar any public agency (including state and municipal government units and courts) from:

  • Requiring a tax-exempt nonprofit to provide a public agency with personal information about its donors, members, supporters, or volunteers. 
  • Requiring an individual to provide personal identifying information about his or her involvement with nonprofits.
  • Publicly disclosing any personal information a public agency might possess. 
  • Requiring a current or prospective contractor to provide a public agency with a list of the nonprofits “to which it has provided financial or nonfinancial support.” 

The legislation does not bar public agencies from furnishing personal information about a nonprofit’s donors, supporters, etc. pursuant to:

  • An active law enforcement investigation.
  • A lawful warrant, subpoena, or other court order.
  • Any “lawful request for discovery of personal information in litigation,” if both of the following criteria are met: 
    • The person requesting the information demonstrates a “compelling need for such information by clear and convincing evidence.” 
    • The person requesting the information “obtains an order barring disclosure of such personal information to any person not named in the litigation.” 

Under SB1608, a person alleging a violation of its provisions could file a civil action for relief, damages, or both. Damages would range from $2,500 to $7,500 for each violation. 

If enacted, the law’s provisions would take effect on Oct. 1. 

Historical context: In 2020, Tennessee lawmakers introduced five bills similar to SB1608: HB1719, HB2396, HB2665, SB2293, and SB2886. All five bills would have prohibited public agencies from requiring 501(c) nonprofits to furnish them with personal information about donors. All five bills died in committee.

Legislative status   

Sen. Paul Bailey (R) introduced SB1608 on Feb. 11. It has not yet been assigned to a committee. A companion bill – HB0159 – was introduced by Rep. Ryan Williams (R) in the Tennessee House of Representatives on Jan. 13. It also has not yet been assigned to a committee. The legislature adjourns May 6. 

Political context: Tennessee is a Republican trifecta, meaning that Republicans control the governorship and both chambers of the state legislature. Tennessee has been a Republican trifecta since 2011.


There has been no media coverage of arguments for or against this bill. However, here’s what we have seen for similar bills in other states. 

In 2018, Michigan lawmakers approved SB1176, which is similar to SB1608

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…”

The Campaign Legal Center’s Erin Cholpak opposed the Michigan bill, writing: “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.”

Gov. Rick Snyder (R) vetoed SB1176. Similar legislation was also introduced last year in Iowa, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia. The Utah and West Virginia bills were enacted. 

What other states are doing: At least three other states are considering similar legislation this year: Iowa (HF309, HSB28, and SSB1036), Nebraska (LB370), and South Dakota (SB103). All three states are Republican trifectas. 

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state: We’re currently tracking 26 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. 

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

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

Recent legislative actions

For complete information on all of the bills we are tracking, click here

  • New Hampshire HB105: This bill would require that political contributions from domestic or foreign limited liability companies be allocated to their individual members on campaign finance reports.  
    • Bipartisan sponsorship.
    • House Election Law Committee executive session scheduled for Feb. 12.
  • South Dakota HB1079: This bill would prohibit executive agencies and officials from requiring nonprofits to make disclosures beyond those required under state and federal law.
    • House Judiciary Committee sponsorship, at the request of the governor.
    • Senate Commerce and Energy Committee amended and approved on Feb. 9.
  • South Dakota SB103: This bill would prohibit public agencies from requiring any person or nonprofit to provide identifying information about a nonprofit’s donors. It would also prohibit a public agency from disclosing any such information currently in its possession.
    • Republican sponsorship.
    • Senate Commerce and Energy Committee amended and approved on Feb. 11.
  • Tennessee SB1608: This bill would prohibit a public agency from disclosing identifying information about a nonprofit’s donors.
    • Republican sponsorship.
    • Introduced on Feb. 11.
  • West Virginia SB17: This bill would require an entity making independent expenditures to disclose the name and address of any person who donated more than $250 to the entity between the first day of the preceding calendar year and the disclosure date. Donations placed into separate segregated accounts used for non-political purposes would be exempt from the disclosure requirement. 
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Introduced and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 10.
  • West Virginia SB49: This bill would require a political action committee to disclose the names and addresses of its contributors to the secretary of state.
    • Bipartisan sponsorship.
    • Introduced and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 10.

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