Bill would ban release of private donor information

A proposal meant to protect the privacy of certain personal information was heard March 11 by the Judiciary Committee.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist45' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Rita Sanders'>Sen. Rita Sanders</a>
Sen. Rita Sanders

Under LB370, sponsored by Bellevue Sen. Rita Sanders, local or state government agencies could not compel a nonprofit organization to release the personal information of its members, supporters, volunteers or donors.

Sanders said the U.S. Supreme Court consistently has upheld the individual right to privacy in association.

“There is a vital relationship between the freedom to associate and privacy in one’s associations,” she said. “Transparency is for the government, but privacy is for the people.”

The bill’s provisions would not apply to legally required disclosures under the Nebraska Political Accountability and Disclosure Act or for use in criminal or civil investigations.

Sanders offered an amendment to the committee that, if adopted, also would exempt the University of Nebraska, the secretary of state and auditor of public accounts from disclosure restrictions under LB370 when otherwise legally required.

Doug Kellogg, speaking on behalf of Americans for Tax Reform, testified in support of the bill. He said the courts alone cannot be relied upon to protect Nebraskans from harassment based on disclosure of their associations.

“While often sold under the wrapping of ethics reform, disclosure is an anti-ethics and anti-transparency policy,” Kellogg said. “Whether it is doxing or hackers — online or real mobs — unfortunately, it has been made perfectly clear that people can and will be targeted for their beliefs, if made public.”

Also testifying in support was Spike Eickholt, representing the ACLU of Nebraska. He said LB370 represents an important protection of First Amendment rights.

“This bill provides for an affirmation of freedom of association and does balance [that with] the idea that the government can compel information from nonprofits and other organizations for certain purposes, including campaign finance disclosures,” Eickholt said.

Opposing the proposal was Korby Gilbertson, testifying on behalf of Media of Nebraska. Some nonprofit groups have blurred the lines between legally acceptable educational activity on political issues and electioneering, she said, while maintaining tax-exempt status.

“It’s not that we don’t believe in people’s First Amendment rights,” Gilbertson said. “We don’t believe people [should] have no accountability for exercising their First Amendment rights.”

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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