AG’s office argues bill would hamper public protection in name of privacy | News

A “fictitious” breast cancer charity has been ordered to pay donors nearly $5,800 in restitution following an investigation by the attorney general’s office. This investigation also led to a court order prohibiting the founders from starting or working in any organization related to breast cancer for 10 years.

Access to the names of the organization’s leaders and donors was critical to the investigation, Diane Murphy Quinlan, deputy director of the office’s Charitable Trusts unit, told lawmakers last week.

A bill currently before the House Judiciary Committee would limit, and in some cases eliminate, the ability of government agencies to obtain and publicly disclose the names of nonprofit board members. It would also make it difficult to use donor information when needed to investigate issues of fraud or potential conflicts of interest.

As a result, Senate Bill 302 would jeopardize the state’s ability to protect the public, Quinlan said. The legislation is also unnecessary and harmful, she said: Her unit rarely asks for the names of donors, and when it does, it is to investigate a conflict of interest or fraud issue.

“This bill would mean less transparency in the governance of charities and make it more difficult for our office to carry out our oversight responsibilities so that donors can have more confidence that their donations are being used for their intended purpose,” said Quinlan told the House Judiciary. Committee. “When considering this bill, it is important to note that the ultimate beneficiary of nonprofit charities is the public, and therefore the public has an interest in them.”

But defeating the bill, which imposes civil and criminal penalties on violators, will be an uphill battle. Few organizations have joined the attorney general’s office in publicly opposing it.

Meanwhile, a diverse group of supporters — from the ACLU-NH to Americans for Prosperity, a conservative issues advocacy group — have already persuaded the Senate to pass the bill, arguing it promotes privacy. . Other supporters include the New Hampshire Coalition for Domestic and Sexual Violence.

SB 302 is necessary, they said, to protect donors, members and volunteers from harassment by those who object to their affiliations, and it would prevent them from receiving endless solicitations from other organizations. (Nonprofits could still voluntarily identify donors, which many do in their annual reports with the option to allow them to be anonymous.)

An ACLU-NH spokesperson said the organization supports the bill but did not testify and referred questions to Greg Moore, state director for Americans for Prosperity in New Hampshire. He cited two concerns to the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

“When you work for a politically active nonprofit organization, many of your donors ask if their contribution will be kept private because, even though they believe in (the mission), they don’t want their name associated because they might be in business. do something else that would have a negative impact,” he said. “And frankly, I think the main reason is that they’re afraid of further unwanted solicitations. In other words, if you you show up on a list as a donor to one organization, there will be a conga of fundraisers from all the other organizations that line up and start soliciting you as well.

The bill had found support in the Senate before the House hearing. Sen. Bill Gannon, a Republican from Sandown, told senators to support him for another reason: People “are afraid of the government” and want their charitable activities kept private, according to the hearing report.

To bolster their position, the bill’s supporters point to court rulings upholding similar prohibitions on disclosing donor information, including a 2021 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that barred the attorney general’s office of California to require nonprofits to report the names of donors who have given more than $5,000 a year. .

They also point to the various policy positions of the 300 groups that have publicly supported the 2021 American Prosperity Challenge. Those were the only arguments the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Regina Birdsell, a Republican from Hampstead, made to the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

Opponents of the bill said citing the California case was irrelevant because it only concerned donor information, not government access to the names of those who register a nonprofit, such as the SB 302 would.

This point also misses the most important concerns of the Charitable Trusts Unit: the bill undermines its ability to investigate conflicts of interest when a charity first registers, and prevent the unit to obtain a list of donors without a court battle will hamper its ability to provide restitution to victims in cases like the breast cancer fraud scheme.

“Although the bill was amended in the Senate to allow our office to request the names of board members in annual reports, the bill as amended would not allow our office to request the names of board members. advice as part of the registration process when charities register with our office,” she said. “This is a time when we are often able to catch and resolve issues such as conflict of interest transactions, pecuniary benefit transactions and resolve issues related to whether or not the board is composed. administration in accordance with State law.”

Olivia Zink, executive director of Open Democracy Action, raised additional concern about how the bill would limit access to political campaign donations.

The bill would not affect access to information about gifts to legislators and legislative employees; names and affiliations of lobbyists; the required financial information; or political expenses and contributions. Zink told the House Judiciary Committee that she believed the wording of the bill still left a loophole that would allow certain political donations to remain confidential.

“This legislation would reduce accountability in our political system, making it easier for wealthy special interests to fund our elections and darken the dark money in New Hampshire politics,” she said. “It moves transparency in the wrong direction.”

The House Judiciary Committee is due to vote on the bill Thursday.

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