Bill to protect donor privacy brings together conservative and progressive groups

The U.S. Senate has voted to begin debate on COVID-19 relief, with new restrictions on aid for local governments. (Photo by Getty Images)

Interest groups from opposite ends of the political spectrum, including the Christian conservative Family Leader and LGBTQ advocacy organization One Iowa, joined together Wednesday in support of a bill aimed at a common goal: protecting the privacy of their donors.

The bill also had the support of ALCU of Iowa, Iowans for Tax Relief, Iowa Safe Schools and Americans for Prosperity, among others.

“… We’re on the opposite sides of a lot of issues, but we have the same sort of existential threat from those who don’t like us,” Chuck Hurley of Family Leader told a three-member Iowa Senate subcommittee that met online Wednesday.

Keenan Crow of One Iowa agreed: “We are in support of this bill as well, I think it’s always a very interesting position that we’re in, we’re on the same side as the Family Leader and several other groups.”

Senate Study Bill 1036 would prevent government agencies from seeking “personal information” such as donor lists from tax-exempt nonprofit organizations and making that information public.

Pete McRoberts of ACLU of Iowa, who spoke in favor of the bill, said there has been a movement in some states, including Iowa, to treat donations to nonprofit organizations more like political donations that are routinely disclosed.

Political donations would still be public records under the proposal.

Supporters noted that some donors won’t continue to give to organizations that disclose their personal information, whether to avoid problems at work, at home, to avoid solicitations from similar groups or to give anonymously as a religious gesture.

Hurley also pointed out that donors to certain organizations have been targeted in the past for harassment or worse.

“There is a long history of people using donor information to get people fired, or their businesses boycotted or worse,” he said. “This is why the U.S. Supreme Court in 1958 ruled unanimously in the landmark First and Fourteenth amendment case that the state of Alabama could not require the NAACP to turn over its membership lists.”

The Iowa Judicial Branch did not oppose the bill but asked senators to consider an amendment to protect court clerks if personal information from nonprofits was disclosed as part of a court filing. The proposal would require judges to seal a file containing personal information if the nonprofit organization asks.

The three senators on the subcommittee all supported moving the bill to the full Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration. Sen. Craig Johnson, R-Independence, expressed delight over the cats-and-dogs unity behind the bill. “This subcommittee, this brought out a lot of information from groups that we don’t always suspect might come together. So that is a lot of fun personally for myself,” he said.

Noted Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City: “I wonder, Mr. Chairman, if this bill might be a vehicle for an amendment calling for world peace.”

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of the national nonprofit States Newsroom, which discloses its largest donors.