At least since 1958’s NAACP v. Alabama, it has been thought settled that state demands for the disclosure of private organizations’ membership and donor lists poses very real risks of First Amendment infringement to which courts must be sensitive. Recent years, however, have seen concerted efforts to strip anonymity from donors to at least some non-profit groups with a policy emphasis. One danger — or feature, from the standpoint of some groups doing the campaigning — is that if target groups can be made to divulge such information, their supporters can be exposed to pressure, shaming, and public and private retaliation.
Kamala Harris, then Attorney General of California and now Senator from that state, did not fare well in court in such a campaign while in state office, but New York’s left-leaning Attorney General Eric Schneiderman seems to be enjoying better luck in a similar push. A Second Circuit panel has ruled in favor of his demands for the donor lists of Citizens United, the conservative group whose role in a landmark First Amendment case at the Supreme Court has made it, along with that case, “the Emmanuel Goldstein of the American left.” It will not be surprising if the Supreme Court is soon asked to reaffirm the protections of NAACP v. Alabama. [Trevor Burrus and Reilly Stephens, Cato, and thanks for mention; see also my April 2016 Cato piece]