Citizens United must reveal donor information to solicit funds in New York
August 30, 2016
As published in the NY Daily News on August 29, 2016.
Citizens United can’t keep its donor list secret from New York regulators if it wants to collect money in the state, according to a new court ruling.
New York mandates that every “charitable organization” — including Citizens United and Citizens United Foundation — register with the state Attorney General’s office to solicit donations.
Charitable organizations must also give IRS paperwork to the state “which lists each of plaintiffs’ donors and amounts contributed.”
These groups must “reveal their donors’ identities and amounts contributed-prior to soliciting funds in New York,” court papers state.
Citizens has been filing the forms since 1995 — without donor information — but the groups were slapped with deficiency notices in 2012.
The notices warned that Citizens needed to file paperwork with this donor info or potentially lose their registration — meaning they wouldn’t be able to collect money in the state anymore. The donor info is not made public.
Citizens refused, claiming donors to the controversial conservative organizations “reasonably fear public backlash … should their support of politically contentious and controversial causes become known publicly.”
They filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in May 2014 to block his push for their donor rolls.
Manhattan Federal Judge Sidney Stein rejected Citizens’ bid to stop Schneiderman from enforcing the requirements in July 2015.
Stein threw out Citizens’ lawsuit Monday.
Stein didn’t buy Citizens’ argument that the rules were too burdensome — or that their donors would face “persecution.”
Schneiderman described Stein’s decision as “a victory for common sense oversight of New York’s vast nonprofit sector.”
“New Yorkers deserve to know their donations are protected against fraud and abuse, and today the court protected that right by dismissing each and every one of Citizen United’s claims,” he said in a statement.
Citizens, which won a U.S. Supreme Court case in 2010 permitting unlimited spending by corporations and unions during elections, is “quite disappointed” by the ruling.
“We are reviewing all of our options at this time, including a possible appeal to the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, and are confident that in the end today’s order will not stand,” said Michael Boos, Citizens United vice president and general counsel, in a statement.