Donors to N.Y. Nonprofits to Be Named for Gifts Over $5,000

  • N.Y. Wins Dismissal of Suit Challenging Charity Donor Rule
  • Conservative group wants large donors to maintain privacy

Donors who give more than $5,000 to nonprofits in New York must be publicly disclosed after state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman won dismissal of a lawsuit by the conservative advocacy group Citizens United, which sued to block the rule.

Citizens United, whose landmark Supreme Court victory made it synonymous with heavyweight political spending, had argued its First Amendment rights were being attacked and that their donors "reasonably fear public backlash, financial harm, and worse" if their support of the group were revealed, according to a ruling on Monday in federal court in Manhattan.

Citizens United contends donor privacy is warranted because the organization has become politically contentious and controversial in recent years, even being compared to al-Qaeda and called an "enemy of the people" by its detractors.

"Plaintiffs provide no factual background or support for their conclusory assertions," U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein said in the ruling rejecting the argument.

’Common sense’

Schneiderman, a Democrat, said the decision was a victory for "common-sense oversight" of New York’s nonprofit sector. "New Yorkers deserve to know their donations are protected against fraud and abuse, and today the court protected that right by dismissing each and every one of Citizens United’s claims,” he said.

Citizens United gained notoriety after its 2010 victory over the Federal Election Commission in the U.S. Supreme Court in a decision that cleared the way for unlimited political spending by corporations, unions and wealthy individuals. The group has been especially active in the run-up to November’s presidential election, filing several suits seeking information about Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, including how much influence Clinton and her team had over the State Department’s Office of Inspector General.

Michael Boos, the general counsel of Washington-based Citizens United, said in an e-mail that he was disappointed by the ruling and may appeal. He challenged the judge’s contention that the claims lacked factual detail and pointed to a similar case that succeeded in California using a complaint with at least the same level of detail.

“This is not the first time Citizens United has suffered a setback in a major First Amendment case," Boos said, referring to a 2008 ruling against the organization in the FEC case that eventually made its way to the nation’s top court. "We ultimately prevailed there with a landmark precedent."

The case is Citizens United v. Eric Schneiderman, 1:14-cv-03703, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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