Donor Privacy and Disclosure Digest: September 2023

Welcome to Ballotpedia’s Donor Privacy and Disclosure Digest! This monthly newsletter provides news and information on key policy changes, a breakdown of state legislation, and an overview of pivotal legal decisions and case developments. In this issue, you’ll find:

  • California update: Senate bill requiring political communication disclosures advances in House.
  • In the courts: The latest on pivotal judicial decisions and developments across the country.
  • State by state: An analysis of this month’s state legislative activity, including bill status, topic, partisan sponsorship, and more. 
  • What we’re reading: Keep up to date on the stories and analyses we’ve been reading this month.
  • Dig deeper: Want more information on the topics covered in this issue? We’ve got you covered.

California Senate bill advances from Assembly committee

On Aug. 28, a California Senate bill requiring the disclosure of the sources of funds used for political communications advanced from an Assembly committee. The bill, SB724, requires the disclosure of certain contributions used for communications that clearly identify an officeholder with the intent to influence the officeholder or public opinion. A person contributing more than $25,000 for such a communication would have to submit a report including their name, address, occupation, employer, and the amount of the payment. 

Sen. Steve Glazer (D) introduced SB724 on Feb. 16. Sen. Scott Wilk (R) also sponsored the bill. The Senate approved it 32-0 on May 24, with 32 Democrats and one Republican voting in favor. In the most recent Assembly Appropriations Committee vote, six Democrats voted in favor of the bill, and no Assembly members voted against it. 

Glazer said, “This bill is a modest approach that only targets large spenders of these types of communication. For state officials, these types of communication do not specifically mention an action but influences future legislation action. Californians deserve to know who is trying to influence legislators, and this bill seeks to provide that information.”

According to the Assembly Elections Committee, which is composed of five Democrats and three Republicans, “This bill raises significant constitutional concerns and could be susceptible to a challenge on the grounds that it violates the guarantees of free speech and freedom of association under the United States (US) Constitution. Courts have consistently recognized that laws that compel a person to disclose information can impact First Amendment rights, because the associated burden and penalties for noncompliance may discourage people from speaking altogether.”

After the Assembly Appropriations Committee advanced the bill on Aug. 28, it was read a second time in the full Assembly and amended. The amendment replaced the phrase “with the intent to influence the officer or public opinion” with the phrase “and educates the public about the previous votes cast by the elected state officer or about the source of campaign donations received by the elected state officer.” The bill now returns to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for consideration. 

At least three other states have introduced legislation regulating political communication funding this year, including New Hampshire, Virginia, and Minnesota. 

In the courts

Circuit court issues ruling in Colorado disclosure case

On Aug. 23, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Colorado nonprofit has standing to sue the state over its disclosure requirements. Since 2019, Colorado law requires organizations that contribute more than $5,000 in a single election cycle in support or opposition to ballot issues to disclose their donors. The Colorado Union of Taxpayers filed the lawsuit on Sept. 11, 2020, seeking “declarations that these laws are unconstitutional, injunctions prohibiting Defendants from enforcing these unconstitutional laws, and compensation for their attorneys’ fees and costs in bringing this suit.” Circuit Judge Robert Bacharach, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama (D), ruled that, “For standing, Colorado Union argues that it fears an enforcement action. The credibility of that fear involves a fact-issue that prevents summary judgment.” A Colorado Union of Taxpayers representative said, “We’re pleased the Tenth Circuit recognized we have a right to our day in court. With this appeal behind us, we look forward to returning to the trial court and getting to the heart of the important First Amendment issues at stake here.” Secretary of State Jena Griswold (D) said, “As Secretary of State, I will always fight against dark money. I am optimistic that the facts of the case will result in another dismissal at the trial level.” At least two states, including California and New Hampshire, have introduced legislation regulating the disclosure of ballot measure campaign funding this year.  

State by state

Since Aug. 3, state legislatures acted on one donor privacy and disclosure bill. No bills were acted on in July. We have followed a total of 55 bills in 2023. In comparison, we tracked 76 bills at this point in 2022 and 40 bills at this point in 2021. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re following.

States have approved more donor privacy and disclosure legislation this year than in the past three years, with the number of bills passed increasing yearly since 2020. See our analysis of enacted bills from 2020 to 2023 here

The map and charts below show donor privacy and disclosure bills introduced by state and bills by partisan sponsorship from 2020 to 2023, respectively. 

What we’re reading

Keep up with the latest events in the world of donor privacy and disclosure policy by exploring the stories linked below. 

Dig deeper

Are you hungry for more information on the topics we covered in this edition? Check out the following Ballotpedia pages: