Comments on Donor Privacy

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January 25, 2016

Jami L. Cantore, Deputy Attorney General
California Department of Justice
Charitable Trusts Section
300 S. Spring St., Suite 1702
Los Angeles, CA 90013

Re:    December 11, 2015 Notice of Proposed
Rulemaking on Donor Confidentiality
Purportedly Under Title 11, Division 1, Chapter 4

Dear Ms. Cantore:

The 63 undersigned nonprofit organizations, entities, and lawyers, as well as the over 1,400 other interested parties concerned about privacy from government and the right of private association, collectively representing millions of donors and millions more potential donors across the country, and having many decades of experience in informing citizens of causes that are important for Americans and their communities,[1] as well as having decades of experience developing relationships and private associations with citizen donors, submit these comments in response to the above-captioned proposed rulemaking about confidentiality of donor names now demanded by the Attorney General as part of the charitable solicitation registration process.

As an initial matter, the demands by the California Attorney General for names and addresses of donors to charities and other nonprofit organizations violate the privacy and private right of association of donors to tens of thousands of worthy causes.  Secondly, we reject the notion that the demands are legal:  They are (1) unconstitutional (despite recent decisions by the Ninth Circuit denying injunctive relief, but ignoring fundamental Supreme Court precedent such as NAACP v. Alabama[2]), (2) illegal under post-Watergate reforms to federal taxpayer information privacy laws, and (3) neither required or contemplated by California’s charitable solicitation statute, nor needed for California’s law enforcement purposes.  Thirdly, the proposed rulemaking fails to provide safeguards and adequately guarantee protections of confidential taxpayer information and privacy of donors to charitable, educational and other philanthropic causes from unauthorized disclosure to government officials, and even as to disclosure to the general public.  Moreover, the provision of the proposed rule that the Attorney General will provide other state agencies, bureaus or departments confidential tax information pursuant to administrative subpoenas would make the Attorney General’s office a hub for further violations of privacy and federal law, cloaked from any obligation of notice for due process, and depriving charities or donors opportunity to seek court relief to block violations of federal law and privacy rights.

 
I.  The AG’s demands for names and addresses of donors are unconstitutional

While there are still several court challenges on constitutional grounds pending, the demands for names and addresses of donors violate the holding in NAACP v. Alabama, and are unconstitutional trespasses on the right and security of private association.[3]  The disclosure and inspection of donor names are susceptible to politically motivated abuses regardless of the political party of the current or future AGs – or members of their staffs.  Also, it is well settled that charitable solicitations are protected by the First Amendment, so the AG’s threats to deny this right to charities wishing to protect the privacy of their donors is extortionate and abusive, and compounds the AG’s constitutional violations.

II.  The AG’s demands for names and addresses on IRS Form 990 Schedule B violate federal law.  Civil and criminal penalties apply to state officials.

Donor names and addresses on Schedule B of Form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service are deemed confidential by federal law.  See, generally, IRC sections 6103 and 6104 governing confidential taxpayer information.  Following post-Watergate reforms, federal law protects against unauthorized (1) disclosure to[4] and (2) inspection by state officials.  There are both civil and criminal penalties for state officials who disclose or inspect confidential taxpayer information without authorization under federal law.  See IRC sections 7213 and 7213A. These penalties indicate the seriousness of the intended protections of taxpayer confidentiality that the AG is now violating.

The federal statutes are clear that confidential taxpayer information may be obtained only in limited circumstances, and with statutory checks on disclosure to and inspection by state officers and employees.  IRC sections 6103 and 6104 foreclose the AG’s dragnet licensing demands for private donor information because they are not expressly authorized.[5]

III.  The AG’s demands using charitable solicitation registration are not authorized by California’s charitable solicitation statute, and are not needed for law enforcement purposes.

The AG’s demands creating disclosure to, and inspection by, herself and other state employees of confidential taxpayer information are not required or expressly authorized by California’s charitable solicitation statute, and certainly are not “necessary” -- a condition required by IRC section 6104(c)(3) -- to the licensing of charitable solicitation.  If ever relevant to an investigation of a particular nonprofit, this federally protected confidential information may be obtained from the IRS under the lawful conditions of the controlling federal statutes, or by investigative methods consistent with the Fourth Amendment and particularized suspicion rather than through an unnecessary dragnet licensing process affecting all registrants and their donors.

IV.  The proposed rule fails to provide safeguards and adequate protections of the confidentiality of donor names and addresses.

The proposed rule is striking in how it utterly lacks description of any safeguards, processes, protocols, or accountability to maintain confidentiality of donor information.[6]  It fails to adequately state how the AG will maintain and protect the confidentiality of donor information, and prevent accidental, reckless, and even willful disclosure and inspection in violation of federal law.  It fails to state which employees in the AG’s office may and may not access this confidential information.[7]  It fails to provide notice to victims of breaches, fails to provide remedies, and fails to provide penalties or discipline for employees of the AG’s office who breach the confidentiality of donor names and addresses.

As stated above, the AG’s office will be a hub for further unlawful disclosures to other state agencies, bureaus or departments that themselves may have no safeguards.  The proposed regulation’s failure to acknowledge the restrictions of disclosure to, or inspection by, certain state agencies as set forth in IRC sections 6103 and 6104 leaves open further violations of federal law, compounding the AG’s violations of IRC section 6103, yet cloaked from notice to victims.  Since the AG has ignored and transgressed the federal law of confidentiality as if it did not apply to her, it is likely she will raise claims of defenses for breaches not contemplated by the federal statutes such as state sovereign immunity.  And, the provision that other government offices merely agree “to maintain the confidentiality of the information received consistent with this regulation” without express safeguards not only risks further violations of federal law, but is an irresponsible extension of this regulation that is irresponsible on its face.

The proposed rule is not a serious effort.  The unlawful demands for confidential taxpayer information by the AG are only further compounded by the proposed rule.  The better course is for the AG to retract her demands for names and addresses of donors, or face the prospect of civil and even criminal challenges for her intentional acts.

Respectfully submitted,

Mark J. Fitzgibbons
President of Corporate Affairs
American Target Advertising, Inc.

Free Speech Coalition

Christopher T. Craig, Esq.

Colby M. May, Esq.
Director & Senior Counsel, Washington Office
American Center for Law & Justice

Cleta Mitchell, Esq.

Hon. Hans A. von Spakovsky
Commissioner
Federal Election Commission, 2006-2007

Melissa Ortiz
Founder and Principal
Able Americans

David Bozell
America, Inc. (d/b/a forAmerica)

Susan Carleson
President
American Civil Rights Union

American Policy Center

Campaign for Liberty

Castleton Ranch Horse Rescue, Inc.

Elaine Donnelly
President
Center for Military Readiness

Star Parker
President and Founder
Center for Urban Renewal and Education

CESAR (Center for Environmental Science,
Accuracy & Reliability)

Craig Shirley
Citizens for the Republic

Chuck Muth
President
Citizen Outreach

Twila Brase, RN, PHN
President
Citizens’ Outreach for Health Freedom

Citizens United

Citizens United Foundation

Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute

ClearWord Communications

Gregory Conko
Executive Director
Competitive Enterprise Institute

The Conservative Caucus Foundation

Richard A. Viguerie
Chairman
ConservativeHQ.com

Robert K. Fischer
Conservatives of Faith

Shaun McCutcheon
Coolidge Reagan Foundation

 

Susan N. Thompson
CEO
Dreamchaser PMU Horse Rescue
 & Rehabilitation, Inc.

Dan Backer, Esq.
DB Capitol Strategies, PLLC

Bruce Eberle
Eberle Associates

Tom Kilgannon
President
Freedom Alliance

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President and CEO
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President
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CEO/Executive Director
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Executive Director
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Executive Director
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President
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President
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President
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Liberty Counsel Action

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President
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Media Research Center

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PoliticalRefund.org

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Development in Society)

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President
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President
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President
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Co-Founder
Tea Party Patriots

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TheTeaParty.net

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President
Tradition, Family, Property, Inc.

The United States Constitutional Rights
Legal Defense Fund, Inc.

Dick Brauer
Veterans Patriot Action Conference

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President
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Young America’s Foundation

 

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William Pierce

Charles Pirnat

John Pirozzi

Zonie Plemmons

Margaret Plese

Robert Plowman

Randy Pochel

Joanne Poehls

Chuck Polley

Charles Polzin

Gilbert Pond

Larry D. Porter

Edward Poullet

Jack Powell

Laurie Prescott

Adam Price

Orville Price

Gary Priem

James Priester

Mark Prigge

Sandey Prince

Alan Pritchett

David Pryor

John Pullman

Sheryll Punneo

Victor Quevedo

Michael Quinlan

Olga Quirarte

Scott R.

William Rachels

Thom Rachford

Everett Rackley

Edward Radlo

Susan Radvansky

Eugenia Ramsey

Thomas Randolph

Ford Rathbun

Ramona Ratliff

Gary Rauls

David Ray

David Rayls

John Reaux

Brett Reber

Steve Reed

Al Reger

Phyllis Reichenbach

Dave Reichl

Robert Reid

Mr. and Mrs. E. W. Reinhart

Robert A. Reneman Jr.

Ronald Rentfrow

Lucy Repovz

Alexa Respeto

John Reynolds

Catherine Rhyne

Amparo Ricarvett

Linda Richards

Bruce Richardson

Jimmy Richardson

Marcie Richner

Howard Rickabaugh

Helen Rickard

Marjorie Rideout

Dennis Ridley

Regina Riely

Bonnie Robertson

Karen Robertson

Neville Robeson

James Robinson

Janis Robinson

Annette Rod

Chuck Rodgers

Mark Rogers

Andrew Rohman

Daniel Rohr

William Rolf

Alan Romagnolo

Carol Ronan

Mel Rose

Bob Ross

Catherine Ross

Landon Ross

Marc Rothman Sr.

Sharon Rowder

Paul Rowlands

James and Cheri Ruark

Jim Ruble

David Rudowski

Zeda F. Ruhl

R Craig Ruminer

Paul Rundle

June Russell

James Ryan

Thomas Ryan

Patricia Rymer

Judy Sabatini

Mike Sabo

Cheryle Sackett

John Sackmann

Christiane Salts

Henry Saltsman

Arthur Sampson

Lewis Sampson

George and Ruth Sarkis

Juanita Sattler

Nathan Sauder

Lorraine Savage

Earl Sawyer

Jack Saylor

Chris Scanga

Michael Scanlon

Jody Schaak

Ryan Schablowsky

Glenn Schantz

Stephen Schlafer

Leslie Schleis

Brian Schlifke

Joseph A. Schmidt

Peter Schneider

David Schoedel

Mark E. Schueler

Bill Scott

Helen Scott

Max Scott Jr.

Paul Scrivner

David Sebastian

David Seitz

Ren Semans

Howard Shackelford

Cecilia Shade

Brenda Shadrick

Benjamin Shafer

Sue Sharp

Bert Shaw

Herbert Shaw

Ken Shedaker

William Shepherd

Richard Sherlock

Linda Shirey

Robert E. Sholaas

Chester Showalter

Paul Shuyler

Robert Siciliano

Theresa Sievers

Charles Sigars

Kenneth Simmons

Destiny Simon

Robert Simone

Charles Simoneaux

Tod Simpson

Mary Sims

Rev. Dr. Ronald L. Sims

David Simsek

Randy Sintzenich

John Sipe

Cecile Skaggs

Richard Skalski

Janet Skendzel

John Slagle

Douglas Slawter

James R. Smiley

Betsy Smith

Charles Smith

Deby Smith

Jen Smith

Larry Smith

Richard Smith

Sabrina Smith

Susan Smith

Tracy Smith

Thomas Smithhart

Julius Smoak

Gordon Snow

Joel Sobolesky

Beverly Soderberg

Miriam Soisson

C.E. Sojka

Eric Solomita

Joyce Solomon

Erik Somirs

M. Marjorie Sortomme

John Spanton

Thomas Specht

Frederick Speece

Joe Speer

M.E. Speer

Douglas Spillman

Grace Spradling

Ron Sprague

Karen Spremulli

Randall Stack

Kenneth Stahl

Constance Standley

Charles Stanford

Patrick Stanley

Elzada Starks

Robert Steele

James Steelman

Sharon Stees

Jerry Steig

Richard Steiner

Beth Stennis

Rodney Sternhagen

Michele Stevens

Margaret Stewart

Mark Stewart

Richard M. Stewart

Stacey Stewart

Nelson Stickle

Karen Stickney

Royce Stilson

Rosemarie Stinemates

Charles A. Stocking

Cathy Stokes

Oziris Stoltz

Charles Stottlemeyer

Gina Straughn

Charles Stringer

Carolyn Studebaker

Janet Stump

Kathy Sullivan

M.P. Sullivan

Adeline Sunday

James Sundquist

Paula Sunkel

Judith Suprys

Jacqueline Surratt

Eral Sutton

Les Swacker

Hayley Swick

Kathy T.

Edward Taggart

Cynthia Takacs

Micha'El Tallant

Tracy Tallent

Eugene Tangren

Gregory Tappan

James Tappen

Jacqueline Tashenberg

Carol Tatom

John Taylor

Patricia Taylor

Bryan Tetzloff

Dale Tewes

Robert Thiess

Kristy Thomas

Shelley Thomas

Archie Thompson

Betty Thompson

Eldon H. Thompson

John W. Thompson

Michael Thompson

Carel Thornton

Bill Thrailkill

Terry Thrift

William Tilotta

Will Tippit

Leo Toby

Guy Tolman

Linda Tomasch

Lyle Topham

Rudy Torres

Horrace Trammell

Neal Treadwell

Reginald Trentham

Nancy Trocke

Marilyn Tross

Marjorie Troutman

Mr. and Mrs. Mike Trudell

Andrea Trundle

Sotiros Tsagalakis

Victor Tuft

Walter Tuitiven

Linda Turner

Sharon Tuten

Tim Tuttle

Heather Tyrrell

Tom Underhill

Billy Utz

Caroljean Valles

Lois Van Kirk

Jim Van Sickle

James Van Surksum

Ryan Vander Heide

John Vanderzanden

Ginette Vaval

Nancy Veeder

Kurt Vegt

Joseph Velasquez

Ellis W Venia Jr.

Keith Vinnecour

Sarah Violette

Vogeler

Thomas Voltz

Robert J. Vondenbrink

Ron Voss

Robert Wachen

Gary Waeldin

Richard Wagler

Daniel Wagner

Nancy Wainwright

Tom Walker

Gary Wall

Lori Walsh Jacobs

Philip Walter

Ralph Walters

Edward Walton

Mike Wammack

Chuck Warczakoski

David Ward

Karen Ward

Ronald Warner

Al Watkins

Brad Watkins

Dennis Watkins

Clarence Watson

Carolyn Watters

Elaine Webb

Charles Weber

Marilyn M. Weber

Dennis Webster

Tim Weidman

Blair Weimer

Ann Weinhagen

John Weinreich

Brian Welch

Carol Welch

Elizabeth Wells

Donna Wenrick

Dean Werley

Mark Wesel

Ann Westcott

Bill Wetzel

Maria Weyraugh

Charles Wheeler

Jeanne Whitbeck

Bob White

Don White

Hampden White

Wayne White

Beth Whithaus

Phil Whittenberg

Marsha Wicklund

Donald Wiegand

Steven Wierman

Lori Wiersma

Bob Wigginton

Debra Wight

Matthew Wight

Jack & Joy Wikoff

D.L. Wiley

Donna Wilkey

Donald Willey

William Vineyard

Jack Williams

James Williams

Jan, Carol, Jillian & Connie Williams

Kathleen Williams

Larry Williams

Linda Williams

Vicky Williamson

Bud Wilson

Donald Wilson

Jerry Wilson

Judy Winegar

Ronnie Winegard

Dale Wingert

Paul Winn

Daniel Wise

Jerome Wojtecki

Kenneth Wold

Beverly Wood

Clive Woods

Patricia Woods

David Woodward

Racine Woodward

Steven Worman

Dwayne Wortham

Paul Wortman

Jim Wright

Ron Wright

T. J. Wright

John W. Wrightson

Gladys Wrobel

Frank Yeager

F. Yeager

Michael Yeary

Martha Yee

Milton Young

Sandra Young

Phil Yribar

Mike Zackerdonski

Maurice Zafrani

Marilyn Zayac

Sharon Zdrojewski

Sally Zehnal

John Zenzer

William Zimmer

Theresa Zimmerman

Mark Zorbas

Robert Zubeck

Barbara R. Zumsteg

 

 




[1] The causes of America’s nonprofit organizations cover many issues -- controversial and not -- such as medicine and science, religion and politics, social welfare, public policy and private actions, cures for diseases, feeding the poor, housing the homeless, caring for wounded veterans and their families, providing care for abused and abandoned animals, and promoting safety in our communities.  Cumulatively, they touch on every major aspect of society. Some inform citizens about civil liberties, the Constitution, and other law.  Many criticize actions taken by the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government, and are independent checks on government.  Some even attempt to hold law enforcement officials such as the Attorney General accountable.  They are used to criticize large private institutions and even other nonprofit entities.  Nonprofits are independent of the government’s officious views, and collectively are commonly referred to as the “Independent Sector.”  Donations to nonprofits are a valuable and irreplaceable means of private association integral to non-governmental, Tocquevillian democracy in American society, and for the benefit of people, animals, the environment, government accountability, and the security of our freedoms.

[2] 357 U.S. 449 (1958).

 

[3]  “We thus reach petitioner's claim that the production order in the state litigation trespasses upon fundamental freedoms protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”  Id. 357 U.S. at 460.  “It is beyond debate that freedom to engage in association for the advancement of beliefs and ideas is an inseparable aspect of the ‘liberty’ assured by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which embraces freedom of speech. Of course, it is immaterial whether the beliefs sought to be advanced by association pertain to political, economic, religious or cultural matters, and state action which may have the effect of curtailing the freedom to associate is subject to the closest scrutiny.”  Id. at 460 - 461. “It is hardly a novel perception that compelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy may constitute as effective a restraint on freedom of association as the forms of governmental action in the cases above were thought likely to produce upon the particular constitutional rights there involved. This Court has recognized the vital relationship between freedom to associate and privacy in one's associations.”  Id. at 462.  Cites omitted and emphasis added.

[4] IRC section 6103(a) is clear that “return information shall be confidential, and except as authorized by this title . . . no officer or employee of any state . . . shall disclose any return or return information obtained by him in any manner in connection with his service as such an officer of employee or otherwise under the provisions of this section.” “The term ‘disclosure’ means the making known to any person in any manner whatever a return or return information.”  IRC section 6103(b)(8) (emphasis added).  This law therefore clearly applies to disclosure to and by state officials and employees.  As interpreted by the IRS, the federal statutes’ ban on disclosure except as authorized by the statutes themselves is clear:  “For a disclosure of any return or return information to be authorized by the Code, there must be an affirmative authorization because section 6103(a) otherwise prohibits the disclosure of any return or return information by any person covered by section 7213(a)(1).”  Disclosure & Privacy Law Reference Guide, IRS Publication 4639, 1-49 (emphasis added).

[5] Only “[u]pon written request by an appropriate State officer, the Secretary [of the Treasury] may make available for inspection or disclosure returns and return information of any organization described in section 501(c) (other than organizations described in paragraph (1) or (3) thereof) for the purpose of, and only to the extent necessary in, the administration of State laws regulating the solicitation or administration of the charitable funds or charitable assets of such organizations.”  IRC section 6104(c)(3)  (emphasis added).

[6]  When, for example, the IRS lawfully discloses private tax information under the defined and limited exceptions in IRC section 6103, the recipient government agency must “(1) establish a system of records to keep track of all disclosure requests, the date of the request, and the reason for the request; (2) establish a secure area in which to store the information; and (3) restrict access of persons to that information.”  Johnson v. Sawyer, 120 F.3d 1307, 1320 (5th Cir. 1997).

 

[7] Id.