Good Government

Citizen-engagement privacy is essential

February 12, 2020

Amy Anderson

Last year, the Oklahoma Ethics Commission pushed a rule change that would have required individuals and nonprofit organizations speaking about their government to disclose their personal and financial information publicly. OCPA rallied thousands of Oklahomans to speak up and share their concerns with the Ethics Commission. The commissioners heard OCPA and the coalition of groups opposing the effort and put a stop to the clearly unconstitutional proposal.

Across the country, there is a growing push to force charities and nonprofits to disclose to the government the names and addresses of individuals who participate in their organizations. In most cases, this data would be included in an online database and anyone with a computer would be able to access it. Nearly 200 bills have been introduced in state capitals in the last four years.

These efforts violate private citizens’ rights to freedom of speech and association and threaten their privacy and safety. The groups that people join and donate to are none of the government’s business. These dangerous policies would allow extremists to obtain the names and addresses of individuals who give to any and all causes. Education special-interests would be able to harass donors to school choice research. Supporters of limited-government groups may be threatened and harassed for their civic engagement.

State Sen. Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville) and state Rep. Terry O’Donnell (R-Catoosa) have introduced legislation based on reform passed in Mississippi last year to proactively prohibit public agencies from releasing donor information from any 501(c) nonprofit organization or from requiring individuals to share their giving history with government officials. Where public agencies already have this information for other purposes like tax documentation, they would be required to keep this donor information confidential.

Sen. Daniels and Rep. O’Donnell recognize that while transparency is an important tool for holding the government accountable, the government should not be able to turn this spotlight on its citizens.

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