Tennessee legislature approves bill limiting disclosure of nonprofit donor information

On May 3, the Tennessee Senate approved HB0159, legislation that would prohibit public agencies from disclosing identifying information about a nonprofit’s donors. The Tennessee House of Representatives approved the bill on April 26. It now goes to Gov. Bill Lee (R) for his signature. Lee has not indicated publicly whether he will sign the bill into law.

What the bill does

HB0159 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 individuals to provide personal identifying information about their 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 HB0159, 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, 2021. 

Historical context: In 2020, Tennessee lawmakers introduced five bills similar to HB0159: 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 history   

Nine Republican representatives introduced HB0159 on Jan. 13. On April 26, the House voted 65-24 in favor of the bill. The vote split largely along party lines — all but one Republican voted for it, and all Democrats voted against it. The Senate then approved the bill 27-5 on May 3. The Senate vote also split along party lines, with Republicans casting all ‘yea’ votes and Democrats casting all ‘nay’ votes. 

Lee has not announced whether he intends to sign the bill into law.

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.

What other states are doing

State lawmakers in Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming have considered similar legislation this year. Four of these states are Republican trifectas (the fifth, North Carolina, has a divided government, with a Democratic governor and Republican majorities in both chambers of the state legislature). 

Arkansas and South Dakota, both Republican trifectas, have enacted similar legislation this year. If Lee signs HB0159 into law, Tennessee will become the third state this year to enact this type of legislation.

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state: We’re currently tracking 38 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

  • California SB686: This bill would require a limited liability company that qualifies as a committee or a sponsor of a committee under the state’s campaign finance laws to file a statement of members with the Secretary of State. The statement of members must include a list of all persons who have a membership interest in the limited liability company of at least 10% or who made a cumulative capital contribution of at least $1,000 to the company after it qualified as a committee or sponsor of a committee, or within the 2 calendar years before it qualified.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
    • Senate Appropriations Committee hearing scheduled for May 3.
  • Maine LD1284: This bill would repeal a law requiring that independently financed communications include a statement listing the top three funders of the entity making the independent expenditure. It would also specify that only party committees and political action committees, and not individuals, are required to file reports of independent expenditures aggregating in excess of $250 during any one candidate’s election.
    • Republican sponsorship.
    • Joint Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs work session scheduled for May 7.
  • North Carolina S636: This bill would provide that, except as specifically required by state or federal law, the identity of any person donating money or tangible goods to a nonprofit corporation or furthering any charitable purpose of that nonprofit corporation is confidential.
    • Bipartisan sponsorship.
    • Senate Rules and Operations Committee hearing scheduled for May 10.
  • Tennessee HB0159: This bill would prohibit a public agency from disclosing identifying information about a nonprofit’s donors.
    • Republican sponsorship.
    • Approved by the Senate on May 3.

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