TagDisclosure Digest

Policy under review: donor disclosure requirements for non-PAC groups making independent expenditures

Last month, we explored state donor disclosure requirements for groups that sponsor electioneering communications. This week, let’s take a closer look at donor disclosure requirements for non-PAC groups making independent expenditures.

An independent expenditure is any money spent on political advertising supporting or opposing a particular candidate for elective office. An independent expenditure originates outside of a candidate’s own election organization and is not coordinated with that candidate’s campaign, authorized candidate committee, or political party committee.

Individuals, political action committees (PACs), super PACs, select nonprofits (such as 501(c)(4) groups), corporations, and labor unions can make independent expenditures. States cannot limit the dollar amounts of independent expenditures. States can, however, impose disclosure requirements on groups making these expenditures.

A total of 33 states require non-PACs making independent expenditures to disclose identifying donor information in required reports. Of these states, 22 require groups to disclose all donors meeting certain contribution amount thresholds, regardless of whether their contributors were earmarked for political spending. These states are shaded in dark green on the map below. The remaining 11 require disclosure only of those donors whose contributions were earmarked for political spending. These states are shaded in light green on the map below.

  • Political context: Of these 33 states, 10 are Democratic trifectas, 14 are Republican trifectas, and nine are divided governments.
    • Of the 11 states that require disclosure only of those donors whose contributions were earmarked for political spending, one is a Democratic trifectas, six are Republican trifectas, and four are divided governments.
    • Of the 22 states that require groups to disclose all donors meeting certain contribution amount thresholds, regardless of whether their contributors were earmarked for political spending, nine are Democratic trifectas, eight are Republican trifectas, and five are divided governments.

Remember]: This discussion deals only with disclosures required as part of regular campaign finance reporting. Disclosures made directly on advertisements, known as disclaimers, are a separate matter.

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What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state: We’re currently tracking 41 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.

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Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

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

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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.

  • New Hampshire HB1525: This bill would alter the definition of a political advocacy organization for the purposes of campaign finance reporting.
    • House Election Law Committee work session scheduled Feb. 18.
    • Bipartisan sponsorship.
  • Oklahoma SB1491: This bill would prohibit public agencies from requiring 501(c) entities to furnish them with personal information about donors.
    • Approved by Senate Judiciary Committee Feb. 19.
    • Republican sponsorship.
  • 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.
    • Senate approved substitute Feb. 21. House approved its own version of the bill Jan. 30.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
  • 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.
    • House Campaign Finance Subcommittee hearing scheduled Feb. 20.
    • Republican sponsorship.


Federal judge will uphold San Francisco donor disclosure rules

On Feb. 14, Judge Charles Breyer, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, said he would uphold most provisions of a San Francisco ordinance establishing donor disclosure requirements for all committees producing campaign advertisements.

What is at issue? On Nov. 5, 2019, San Francisco voters approved Proposition F, establishing the following donor disclosure requirements for all committees producing campaign advertisements supporting or opposing any candidate for city office or any city ballot initiative:

  • Printed advertisements must include a disclaimer with the names and contribution amounts of the committee’s top three donors.
  • Audio and video advertisements must include a spoken disclaimer at the beginning of the advertisement listing the committee’s top three donors.
  • In any case where a top-three contributor is a secondary independent committee, the advertisement (print, audio, or video) must also disclose the identities of the top two donors to the secondary committee.

These requirements apply to contributors who give $5,000 or more to a committee.

Who are the parties to the suit? The plaintiffs are “Yes on Prop B,” a committee advocating for the passage of a bond issue to fund earthquake safety and emergency services in San Francisco, and its treasurer, Todd David. The defendant is the consolidated city and county government of San Francisco.

What are the plaintiffs’ allegations? The plaintiffs allege the disclosure requirements violate their First Amendment rights “by requiring their core political speech to carry disclaimers that will consume significant portions of those communications and in some cases entirely consume those communications.” The plaintiffs had asked the court to bar enforcement of the rules: “The new disclaimer rules effectively drown out plaintiffs’ message on their selected forms of communication, making their participation in the March election infeasible unless the new disclaimer rules are enjoined.”

What did Breyer say? Breyer said, “[The ordinance] is geared to making sure that when voters exercise their franchise, they have as good an understanding … that it’s all right out there.” While Breyer said he would uphold most of the ordinance’s requirements, he will issue a partial injunction against its disclosure requirements for small-print and short-length advertisements. Breyer said the disclosure requirements for these advertisements would “clearly just overwhelm the message,” violating the producers’ First Amendment rights.

It is unclear when Breyer will issue a formal order and full opinion. The Proposition B election is scheduled for March 3. As of Feb. 17, the plaintiffs have not indicated whether they intend to appeal Breyer’s decision.

Case information: Breyer was appointed to the court by President Bill Clinton (D). The case name and number are Yes on Prop B v. San Francisco, 3:20-cv-00630-CRB.

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state: We’re currently tracking 41 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.

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Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

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

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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.

  • Minnesota HF2050: This bill would amend the definitions of express advocacy and electioneering communication and revise disclosure requirements.
    • House Government Operations Committee hearing scheduled Feb. 13.
    • Democratic sponsors.
  • New Hampshire HB1525: This bill would alter the definition of a political advocacy organization for the purposes of campaign finance reporting.
    • House Election Law Committee work session rescheduled from Feb. 12 to Feb. 18.
    • Bipartisan sponsors.
  • Tennessee HB2396: This bill would prohibit public agencies from requiring 501(c) entities to furnish them with personal information about donors.
    • Referred to House Constitutional Protections and Sentencing Sub-committee Feb. 11.
    • Republican sponsors.
  • Tennessee HB2665: This bill would prohibit public agencies from requiring 501(c) entities to furnish them with personal information about donors.
    • Referred to House Constitutional Protections and Sentencing Sub-committee Feb. 11.
    • Republican sponsors.
  • 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.
    • Senate Privileges and Elections Committee hearing scheduled Feb. 18.
    • Democratic sponsors.
  • 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.
    • Referred to House Privileges and Elections Committee Feb. 13.
    • Republican sponsors.


Federal judge set to hear arguments in challenge to San Francisco donor disclosure rules

On Feb. 14, Judge Charles Breyer of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California will hear arguments in a challenge to donor disclosure requirements that San Francisco voters approved in 2019.

Who are the parties to the suit? The plaintiffs are “Yes on Prop B,” a committee advocating for the passage of a bond issue to fund earthquake safety and emergency services in San Francisco, and its treasurer, Todd David. The defendant is the consolidated city and county government of San Francisco.

What is at issue? On Nov. 5, 2019, San Francisco voters approved Proposition F, establishing the following donor disclosure requirements for all committees producing campaign advertisements supporting or opposing any candidate for city office or any city ballot initiative:

  • Printed advertisements must include a disclaimer with the names and contribution amounts of the committee’s top three donors.
  • Audio and video advertisements must include a spoken disclaimer at the beginning of the advertisement listing the committee’s top three donors.
  • In any case where a top-three contributor is a secondary independent committee, the advertisement (print, audio, or video) must also disclose the identities of the top two donors to the secondary committee.

These requirements apply to contributors giving $5,000 or more to a committee.

What are the plaintiffs’ allegations? The plaintiffs allege the requirements violate their First Amendment rights “by requiring their core political speech to carry disclaimers that will consume significant portions of those communications and in some cases entirely consume those communications.” The plaintiffs have asked the court to bar enforcement of the rules: “The new disclaimer rules effectively drown out plaintiffs’ message on their selected forms of communication, making their participation in the March election infeasible unless the new disclaimer rules are enjoined.”

What are the reactions? John Cote, a spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said, “We are defending this ballot measure consistent with First Amendment law.” Jon Golinger, director of Sunlight on Dark Money, the campaign that supported Proposition F, said, “This lawsuit is designed to keep voters in the dark so that secretive Super PACs can hide the real agenda behind their campaign ads.”

Case information: Breyer was appointed to the court by President Bill Clinton (D). The case name and number are Yes on Prop B v. San Francisco, 3:20-cv-00630-CRB.

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state: We’re currently tracking 41 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.

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Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

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

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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.
    • Referred to Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 6.
  • Tennessee is currently considering four substantively similar donor disclosure bills that would prohibit public agencies from requiring 501(c) entities to furnish them with personal information about donors.
    • HB2396 (companion to SB2293): Introduced Feb. 5.
    • HB2665 (companion to SB2886): Introduced Feb. 5.
    • SB2293 (companion to HB2396): Introduced Feb. 6.
    • SB2886 (companion to HB2665): Introduced Feb. 6.


Federal judge upholds Santa Fe donor disclosure law

On Jan. 29, Judge Judith Herrera, of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, upheld a Santa Fe city ordinance requiring entities spending $250 or more to advocate for or against ballot propositions to disclose their donors.

Who are the parties to the suit? The plaintiff is the Rio Grande Foundation (RGF), an economic policy think tank whose self-described mission is “to increase liberty and prosperity for all of New Mexico by informing citizens of the importance of individual freedom, limited government, and economic opportunity.” The defendants include the city of Santa Fe and the Santa Fe Ethics and Campaign Review Board (ECRB), which enforces the city’s campaign finance ordinances.

What is at issue? In 2015, the Santa Fe City Council enacted an ordinance requiring any person or group spending $250 or more on ballot measure campaigns to disclose their donors. Any entity meeting that threshold must report “all contributions received for the purpose of paying for such expenditures.” Disclosures must specify the name, address, and occupation of the contributor.

In 2017, Santa Fe conducted a special municipal election in which residents were asked to approve a tax on sweetened drinks. RGF launched a campaign opposing the measure. On April 24, 2017, the ECRB, in response to a citizen complaint, held a hearing to determine whether RGF’s campaign expenditures had exceeded the $250 reporting threshold. The ECRB determined that RGF had done so and ordered the group to file the requisite disclosures. On July 26, 2017, RGF sued the city, alleging the ordinance “chills constitutionally protected speech by non-profit groups and their donors,” in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article II of the New Mexico Constitution.

How did the court rule? Herrera, who was appointed to the court by President George W. Bush (R), dismissed the suit in favor of the defendants. In her opinion, Herrera wrote, “RGF’s as-applied challenge fails because there is no evidence of threats, reprisal, harassment, or the like of donors or potential donors to RGF or that would-be donors declined to contribute because of the disclosure requirements. RGF did not rely on any other burdens. Because disclosure requirements serve substantial governmental interests, Defendants met their burden of demonstrating a substantial relation between the governmental informational interest and the information required to be disclosed. Although the Court remains concerned about the potential chilling effect of the ordinance for groups raising and spending small amounts on ballot initiatives, the factual record is insufficient to support the sweeping invalidation of the ordinance that RGF requests[.]”

What comes next? As of Feb. 3, RGF has not indicated whether it intends to appeal Herrera’s decision. The case name and number are Rio Grande Foundation v. City of Santa Fe, 1:17-cv-00768-JCH-CG

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state: We’re currently tracking 37 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.

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Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

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

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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.
    • Introduced Feb. 3.
  • Tennessee HB1719: This bill would prohibit public agencies from requiring 501(c) entities to furnish them with personal information about donors.
    • Withdrawn Jan. 29.
  • 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.
    • House approved Jan. 30; referred to Senate Privileges and Elections Committee Jan. 31.


Three states consider bills barring public agencies from requiring donor information from 501(c)s

Iowa, Oklahoma, and Tennessee are considering legislation that would bar public agencies from requiring 501(c) nonprofit entities to provide them with personal information about their donors.

The bills share identical definitions of “public agencies” and “personal information.” They also assign the same penalties for noncompliance.

  • “Public agency” definition: any state or local governmental entity.
  • “Personal information definition: any “list, record, register, registry, roll, roster, or other compilation of data that directly or indirectly identifies a person as a member, supporter, or volunteer of, or donor of financial or nonfinancial support to, any entity which is exempt from taxation under section 501(c) of the federal Internal Revenue Code.”
  • Penalties for noncompliance: A maximum $1,000 fine, imprisonment for up to 90 days, or both for knowing violations.

What is the political context? All three states are Republican trifectas, meaning Republicans in each state hold the governorship and majorities in both legislative chambers. Detailed information on legislative status is provided below.

  • Iowa HF697 was introduced March 11, 2019. Its floor manager in the House is Rep. Steven Holt (R), chair of the House Judiciary Committee. The bill was set to be considered at a House Judiciary Committee hearing scheduled for Jan. 22.
  • Oklahoma SB1491 is slated to be introduced Sen. Julie Daniels (R), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Feb. 3, 2020.
  • Tennessee HB1719 was introduced by Reps. Ryan Williams (R) and Scott Cepicky (R) on Jan. 22, 2020.

Have other states considered similar legislation? What were the reactions? Michigan lawmakers approved a similar bill, SB1176, in 2018. Governor Rick Snyder (R) vetoed it.

  • 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 37 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.

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Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

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

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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.
    • House Judiciary Committee hearing 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 for introduction Feb. 3.
  • Tennessee HB1719: This bill would prohibit public agencies from requiring 501(c) entities to furnish them with personal information about donors.
    • Introduced Jan. 22.
  • 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.
    • Approved by House Privileges and Elections Committee Jan. 24.
  • 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.
    • Engrossed by Senate Jan. 24.
  • West Virginia SB581: This bill expands disclosure requirements for covered transfers, which are defined as any transfers or payments of funds made by 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. 22.


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.

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Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

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

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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.

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Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

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

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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.

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Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

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

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Recent legislative actions

No legislative actions have occurred since our last issue.