Government Military and Veterans Affairs

Privacy sought for nonprofit info

A bill meant to protect the privacy of certain personal information was heard Feb. 16 by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

Sen. Rita Sanders
Sen. Rita Sanders

Under LB297, sponsored by Bellevue Sen. Rita Sanders, local and 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 freedom of association outlined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The right also should be codified in state law, she said, as a way to communicate the policy clearly to state agencies.

Nonprofits serve a “vital role” in American society by encouraging the free exchange of ideas, Sanders said, and that role needs to be protected.

“Activists want to seek private information through nonprofits in order to target individuals for their personal beliefs,” she said.

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.

Nate Grasz of the Nebraska Family Alliance testified in support of the bill, calling it a “proactive” step to ensure that government cannot force or coerce nonprofits to disclose the personal information of their members and donors.

Undermining donor privacy would have a “chilling effect” on charitable giving, he said, due to fear of harassment, bullying and even acts of violence against individuals based on their associations.

“In today’s polarized culture and political climate, it is not hard to imagine the harm that can be done by private donor information being released to the public,” Grasz said. “Government officials may use confidential donor information to target those with different or disfavored views by those in political power, as they did during the Civil Rights era.”

Testifying on behalf of the ACLU of Nebraska, Spike Eickholt also supported the bill. He said the right of “associational privacy” that goes along with the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of association is “fundamental” to U.S. democracy.

“[LB297] is an important bill because it does provide for a preemptive assurance of protection for organizations and their members,” Eickholt said.

Korby Gilbertson testified against the bill on behalf of Media Nebraska. She cautioned that some organizations have “hidden” under the guise of nonprofit status while engaging in political activity. In light of that reality, protections such as those outlined in LB297 should be narrowly tailored, she said.

Ann Hendry, CEO of the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands also opposed the bill. Nonprofit donor information already is “safe, secure and confidential,” she said, and the broader nonprofit community is not seeking the changes contained in the bill.

“[LB297] is a solution to a problem that simply does not exist,” Hendry said. “[It’s] chasing a hypothetical threat of what might happen in the future based on something that didn’t happen in the past.”

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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