TagDisclosure Digest

A look at donor disclosure requirements for electioneering communications

As the year gets underway, and lawmakers nationwide take up bills on donor disclosure, let’s take a closer look at a particular policy area: donor disclosure requirements for groups that sponsor electioneering communications.

Broadly speaking, an electioneering communication is any broadcast, cable, or satellite transmission that refers to a clearly identified candidate within a specified time period preceding a primary or general election. Although electioneering communications refer to a specific candidate, they do not explicitly advocate for that candidate’s election or defeat. This makes an electioneering communication a form of issue advocacy.

Individuals, corporations, labor unions, and nonprofit groups can produce electioneering communications. Generally, the policies regulating the use of electioneering communications vary from state to state (although federal laws apply to electioneering communications used in federal elections).

The first map below indicates which states require entities making electioneering communications to disclose the names of their donors to the public. States shaded in dark green require general disclosure of all donors to a sponsor group. States shaded in light green require disclosure only of those donors whose contributions were earmarked for electioneering purposes. Twenty-two states require groups issuing electioneering communications to make some form of disclosure.

The second map below indicates which states exempt 501(c)(3) groups from these disclosure requirements. States shaded in dark green provide a 501(c)(3) exemption. States shaded in gray do not. Six states provide explicit disclosure exemptions for at least some types of 501(c)(3) groups.

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What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state: We’re currently tracking 35 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 January 20, 2020.png

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Disclosure Digest status chart January 20, 2020.png

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

Disclosure Digest partisan chart January 20, 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.

  • Iowa HF697: This bill would prohibit public agencies from requiring 501(c) entities to furnish them with personal information about donors.
    • Hearing scheduled for Jan. 22.
  • Oklahoma SB1491: This bill would prohibit public agencies from requiring 501(c) entities to furnish them with personal information about donors.
    • Pre-filed to be introduced Feb. 3.
  • Virginia HB849: This bill would subject political campaign communications made via online platforms to the same disclosure requirements currently applied to print media, television, and radio advertisements.
    • Hearing scheduled for Jan. 17.


Donor disclosure legislation in 2019: the year in review

This month, legislative sessions in 37 states either have convened or will convene. Another six will convene in February. But before we embark on our weekly journey through the 2020 legislative sessions, let’s take a look back on 2019.

Legislatures in 33 states considered 74 donor disclosure bills in 2019. New York led the way with 10 bills, 13.5 percent of the total. The following states each considered at least two donor disclosure bills in 2019:

  • Minnesota and Missouri: 5 each
  • Connecticut: 4
  • Montana, New Hampshire, Utah, and Washington: 3 each
  • Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia: 2 each.

Democrats sponsored 35 bills – 47.3 percent of the total. Republicans sponsored 22 bills, or 29.7 percent of the total. The remainder were sponsored either on a bipartisan basis or by committees.

These 16 bills, 21.6 percent of the total, were enacted:

  • Colorado SB068: Expands the definition of an electioneering communication for the purposes of campaign finance disclosure.
  • Georgia SB213: Adjusts contribution thresholds triggering disclosure requirements
  • Idaho S1113: Expands existing disclosure requirements to local elections and campaigns.
  • Mississippi HB1205: Prohibits public agencies from requiring or releasing certain personal information from entities organized under Section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code.
  • New Hampshire SB105: Establishes disclosure requirements for certain contributions made to inaugural committees.
  • New Jersey S1500: Requires disclosure of donors to 501(c)(4)s, super PACs, and other similar entities who contribute $10,000 or more.
  • New Mexico SB3: Expands disclosure requirements for groups making independent expenditures for political purposes.
  • North Dakota HB1037: Re-enacts previously rescinded disclosure requirements for contributions made to ballot measure campaigns.
  • South Dakota SB114: Requires that campaign contributions by minors be attributed to their parents for campaign finance disclosure and reporting purposes.
  • Utah HB0131: Requires political issues committees to disclose certain contributions within three days of receipt.
  • Utah HB0319: Establishes disclosure requirements for entities spending money on ballot proposition advertisements.
  • Virginia HB1719: Extends the provisions of the state’s Campaign Finance Disclosure Act to candidates for local office who accept contributions or make expenditures in excess of $25,000.
  • Washington HB1379: Amends a state law requiring that entities producing political advertisements publicly disclose their top five donors.
  • West Virginia SB622: Makes general revisions to the state’s campaign finance disclosure laws.
  • Wyoming SF0018: Makes general revisions to the state’s campaign finance and disclosure laws.

One bill was vetoed in 2019: New Hampshire SB156, which would have required that political contributions from limited liability companies be allocated to individual members in order to determine whether individuals have exceeded contribution limits. The remaining 57 bills (77.0 percent of the total) either died at the end of 2019 or were carried over to 2020 sessions.

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state: We’re currently tracking 34 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 January 13, 2020.png

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Disclosure Digest status chart January 13, 2020.png

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

Disclosure Digest partisan chart January 13, 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.

  • Michigan SB0704: This bill would require that an independent or political committee making contributions to the campaign committee of a judge or supreme court justice disclose (a) whether that committee is primarily funded by a limited liability company and, (b), if so, the name and address of that company.
    • Introduced and referred to Senate Elections Committee Jan. 8.
  • New Hampshire HB1525: This bill would alter the definition of a political advocacy organization for the purposes of campaign finance reporting.
    • Introduced and referred to House Election Law Committee Jan. 8.
  • New York A01822: This bill would regulate disclosure requirements for contributions facilitated by intermediaries.
    • Referred to Assembly Election Law Committee Jan. 8.
  • New York A03450: This bill would establish disclosure regulations for campaign contributions made via text message.
    • Referred to Assembly Election Law Committee Jan. 8.
  • New York A03727: This bill would establish disclosure requirements for certain political contributions from elected statewide officials, state legislators, and New York City officials.
    • Referred to Assembly Governmental Operations Committee Jan. 8.
  • New York A05490: This bill would establish disclosure requirements for inaugural and transition committees.
    • Referred to Assembly Election Law Committee Jan. 8.
  • New York S00488: This bill would regulate disclosure requirements for contributions facilitated by intermediaries.
    • Referred to Senate Elections Committee Jan. 8.
  • New York S02334: This bill would regulate disclosure requirements for contributions facilitated by intermediaries.
    • Referred to Senate Elections Committee Jan. 8.
  • New York S02967: This bill would require district attorney candidates to disclose to the board of elections any contributions received from law firms or attorneys representing defendants in criminal proceedings in any court in the state.
    • Referred to Senate Elections Committee Jan. 8.
  • New York S03073: This bill would require campaign finance reports to include information on contributors’ occupations and, in select cases, contributors’ employers’ information.
    • Referred to Senate Elections Committee Jan. 8.
  • Virginia HB849: This bill would subject political campaign communications made via online platforms to the same disclosure requirements currently applied to print media, television, and radio advertisements.
    • Introduced and referred to House Committee on Privileges and Elections Jan. 8.
  • West Virginia HB4073: This bill would require any caucus committee to disclose the receipt of all contributions, including sources and amounts, within five days of receipt when the contribution occurs during any legislative session.
    • Introduced and referred to House Judiciary Committee Jan. 9.
  • West Virginia SB27: This bill would require that a political action committee disclose the names and addresses of its contributors to the secretary of state.
    • Introduced and referred to Senate Judiciary Committee Jan. 8.
  • West Virginia SB113: This bill expands disclosure requirements for covered transfers, which are defined as any transfers or payments of funds from one person to another for campaign-related disbursements (i.e., independent expenditures consisting of public or electioneering communications).
    • Introduced and referred to Senate Judiciary Committee Jan. 8.


Two nonprofit groups challenge Rhode Island donor disclosure law

On Nov. 21, 2019, two nonprofit groups – the Gaspee Project and the Illinois Opportunity Project – filed suit in U.S. District Court, alleging that a Rhode Island law requiring issue advocacy groups to disclose personal information about their donors to the public violates donors’ free-speech and privacy rights.

Who are the parties to the suit? The plaintiffs are two nonprofit groups: the Gaspee Project and the Illinois Opportunity Project, both 501(c)(4) organizations subject to the challenged law. They are represented by the Liberty Justice Center. The defendants are Diane Mederos, Stephen Erickson, Jennifer Johnson, Richard Pierce, Isadore Ramos, David Sholes, and William West, all members of the Rhode Island Board of Elections.

What is at issue? The law in question (H7859, enacted in 2012) requires issue advocacy groups to disclose to the public personal information about their donors who contribute more than $1,000. Groups must report the donor’s name, job title, employer, home address, and donation amount. This information is then posted to a government website. The law also requires that, in the weeks leading up to an election, groups publish the names of their top five contributors on any advertising or messages.

What are the arguments? Daniel R. Suhr, an attorney for the Liberty Justice Center, said, “This case is about freedom of speech and association. We think the marketplace of ideas operates best when we have the most robust conversation and people can controversial things without fear of retaliation. From the beginning of our nation, our country has had a proud tradition of anonymous speech in the public square. And that stems from a commitment to focusing on ideas, rather than who is paying for the message.”

Austin Graham, legal counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, which supports the Rhode Island law, said, “It’s about providing voters with more information to fully evaluate political advertising and messaging, which in turn allows them to fully participate in the democratic process. It’s the marketplace of ideas. Informed decisions in the political marketplace, like the economic marketplace, depend on the free flow of information about sources of political messages supporting or opposing candidates.”

Have other courts ruled on the constitutionality of similar laws? On Sept. 30, Judge Denise Cote, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, 2016 law requiring 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) groups to disclose personal information about their donors in select circumstances. Under the New York law, 501(c)(3) groups were required to disclose the identities of donors who contributed more than $2,500 in a calendar year if the 501(c)(3) group made in-kind contributions to a 501(c)(4) group that engaged in lobbying activity. 501(c)(4) groups were required to disclose the identities of donors who contributed more than $1,000 if the 501(c)(4) group spent $10,000 or more per calendar year on covered communications (i.e., communications that advocate for or against an identified elected official).

On Oct. 2., Judge Brian R. Martinotti, of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, enjoined the state from enforcing its donor disclosure law, adopted on June 17, while litigation is underway. Under the New Jersey law, 501(c)(4) and 527 entities that spend $3,000 or more annually to influence or provide political information about the outcome of any election or policy proposal must disclose the identities of their donors who contribute $10,000 or more.

Case information: The case name and number are Gaspee Project et al. v Mederos et al., 1:19-cv-00609. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island. The presiding judge is Mary McElroy, who was appointed to the court by Donald Trump (R).

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state: We’re currently tracking 74 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 December 23, 2019.png

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Disclosure Digest status chart December 23, 2019.png

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

Disclosure Digest partisan chart December 23, 2019.png

Recent legislative actions

No legislative actions have occurred since our last issue.



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