Donor privacy bill dies in Iowa House

Donor privacy is an issue that’s generating some buzz these days, particularly at the State Capitol. House File 697, a bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Holt (R-Denison), creates additional protections for donors to nonprofit 501(c) organizations. It was scheduled to be debated on Monday in the Iowa House, but it did not run.

Later that evening, Rep. Chuck Isenhart (D-Dubuque) made the post below on his Facebook account:

In looking at the bill and the amendment filed by Rep. Karin Derry (D-Johnston), this post appears to have several inaccuracies.

For starters, this bill deals specifically with donors to 501(c) organizations. Political action committes (PACs) are required to make their donors public per campaign finance law. PACs are completely different from 501(c) organizations.

This bill specifically protects the voices of average people, contrary to Rep. Isenhart’s post. Individuals with substantial wealth often find creative ways to move money to make tracing it back difficult. It’s the individuals who are donating $5, $10, or even $100 who are in real jeopardy of having their personal information disclosed.

Rep. Derry’s amendment would have limited the scope of the bill to strictly 501(c)3 organizations. This amendment was likely designed to target conservative organizations under the guise of keeping “dark money” out of politics, but in reality, it strips protections for groups across the political spectrum who support the bill, including Planned Parenthood and The FAMiLY Leader. This amendment would remove these protections for veterans’ organizations, including the American Legion, as well.

It is unclear if the House Democrat caucus fully understands the implications of their amendment. Republican House Leadership would not run the bill with a bad amendment that undermines the intent of the legislation, and the House Democrats chose to abandon the wide swath of support for the legislation, including their base, in order to spout an inaccurate political talking point. This bill passed out of the Iowa House Judiciary committee without amendment on a bipartisan 20-1 vote, with only one democrat voting against the bill as written.

The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on a similar issue in 1958 in the landmark NAACP v. the State of Alabama decision. The State of Alabama attempted to obtain a list of NAACP members, likely with the intent to expose supporters of the civil rights movement. Their goal was to discourage involvement with the NAACP and chill support for the civil rights movement. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the NAACP, recognizing the freedom of association implied under the First Amendment.

Presidential candidate Kamala Harris is in hot water over this issue as well. As California Attorney General, she illegally exposed the donors of 1,400 nonprofit organizations. This action, which the courts have so far upheld as unconstitutional, has resulted in death threats to many individuals, including the Koch brothers.

Donor privacy is an issue that should not be partisan, and in looking at the lobbyist registrations on House File 697, it was not partisan until House Democrats decided to sacrifice their base in order to make it partisan. Supporters for the bill include conservative organizations like the FAMiLY Leader, Americans for Prosperity and Iowans for Tax Relief. On the other side of the aisle, Planned Parenthood, the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, OneIowa and the ACLU also support House File 697 as written.

It appears that House Democrats would rather put politics ahead of the Iowans they were elected to serve.

Jacob Hall

Author: Jacob Hall