House approves restrictions on NC nonprofit donor disclosures

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 20, 2021

RALEIGH (AP) — A bill described by supporters as one that prevents snooping into citizens’ contributions to North Carolina charities neared final legislative approval Thursday following an affirmative state House vote.

On a party-line vote of 58-34, the chamber voted for the measure pushed by Republicans. A version cleared the Senate three months ago.

Democrats suspicious of the idea contend it would lead to reduced transparency of political activity by independent expenditure groups, whose donors already are hard to originate.

The bill says the names of donors to North Carolina-based nonprofits can’t be disclosed publicly by the group without a donor’s written permission. And it states a donor’s identifying information is not a public record when held by a state or local government agency. A government worker who uses or discloses it could be guilty of a misdemeanor.

The restrictions don’t apply when other state or federal laws take precedence, such as election laws that require disclosure of contributors to political committees or electioneering communications.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision in July found unconstitutional California’s policy to collect the names and addresses of top donors to charities. The bill aligns with that opinion, said Rep. Hugh Blackwell, a Burke County Republican shepherding the bill.

An unsuccessful amendment by Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Guilford County Democrat, would have limited the restrictions only to nonprofits that have religious, charitable or educational purposes.

They would not have applied to social welfare groups that can participate in political or lobbying activities. These groups often can receive unlimited donations and don’t have to disclose their sources.

“You can’t understate the influence all of this dark money has had on our elections,” Harrison said.

Blackwell countered that Harrison’s amendments would leave open the door to attacks upon people on donor and membership lists.

“The real threat is to our freedom of association, our freedom of speech,” Blackwell said.
The Washington-based Campaign Legal Center wrote a letter to judiciary committee members hearing the bill earlier Thursday urging them to defeat the measure, saying it “stymies further disclosure of donor information from groups that hide their political spending in dark money shell games.”

The bill now returns to the Senate for consideration. Any final bill would go to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who could veto the legislation, sign it or let it become law without his signature.