Senate Deals Blow to Privacy Rights

Yesterday, the Senate narrowly passed S.J. Res. 64, a resolution to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn the U.S. Department of Treasury’s decision to end the unnecessary collection of donor information from certain not-for-profit organizations whose supporters receive no tax benefit for their contributions.

National Taxpayers Union (NTU) opposed this resolution as an unjustifiable invasion of donor privacy. The Treasury’s decision does not affect requirements that organizations keep and maintain careful records of financial transactions and donations, all of which are still available for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to access during the course of an inquiry. What the decision does achieve is to reduce opportunities for the misuse or mishandling of personal information, particularly to target individuals on an ideological basis. This concern is not unfounded. IRS employees have filed fraudulent Federal income tax returns, accidentally leaked personal information of taxpayers, unlawfully accessed personal information, and even purposefully leaked the donor list of a nonprofit organization, along with nonprofit status applications.

In response to Wednesday’s 50-49 vote, NTU President Pete Sepp stated:

Yesterday’s passage of S.J. Res. 64 is troubling to supporters of free speech and privacy. In multiple instances, the private information of individuals has been weaponized and used to discourage or punish speech. Punishing people for lawfully advocating on behalf of their deeply held personally convictions is a serious threat to our civil society.

S.J. Res. 64 supporters claim this measure is necessary for purposes of transparency and accountability, to stem the flow of so-called “dark money” to charitable organizations. However, the IRS and other law enforcement bodies already have all the tools necessary to adjudicate any suspected donor-related wrongdoing. It is becoming increasingly clear that efforts to force the IRS to collect additional donor information from those who don’t even claim tax benefits will have the effect of intimidating and chilling the free speech of both individuals and the organizations they support.

NTU is grateful to the Senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who stood up to this Orwellian tactic and opposed the resolution. As this moves to the House for consideration, NTU continues to urge Representatives to defend free speech and vote “NO” on S.J. Res. 64.