State bill to hide non-profit donors clears another state senate hurdle

Republican Senator Mike Shirkey’s senate bill 1176, known as the Personal Privacy Protection Act if passed, has been recommended to the committee of the whole for review and possible amendment.

The bill would prevent any government agency from obtaining or revealing the names of donors to any 501(c) registered organization, including politically active groups registered under 501(c)4 and 501(c)6. For instance, the 501(c)4 organization Making Government Accountable started by Gov. Rick Snyder, which does not disclose donors.

No classification of nonprofit organizations are currently required by Michigan law to disclose donors, although some do voluntarily release that information.

“We should have transparency on everything,” Democratic State Rep. Scott Dianda said.

He said the Republican party regularly pushes to prevent disclosure of donor information. He believes the attempt to protect donor lists is an effort to keep the incoming administration of mostly Democrats from being able to require increased transparency without getting new legislation through the state Congress, which will remain in Republican control.

“It’s always protecting the unknown donors,” Dianda said.

Dianda thinks the bill will be unpopular enough that he will not get the chance to vote on it, but said he would be willing to protect some nonprofits’ donor lists.

“I’m sure we’re not worried about the lady or the man who gives five dollars to church,” he said.

Republican Senator Tom Casperson said he was uncomfortable with the bill, but stopped short of saying he would not vote for it.

“I definitely have some concerns with it,” he said.

He said he would be more comfortable with a bill that would only protect non-political nonprofits from being forced to disclose their donors. He also said that no political groups should be able to hide their funding, but expressed frustration at negative attacks against candidates based on who they accept campaign funding from.

“We disclose all of our donors,” he said.

Donations directly to election campaigns are reported to the State and made public, but nonprofits and political action committees are free from having to disclose donors.

The new bill contains exceptions to the identity protection for court warrants, and for discovery during litigation. However, it requires the requestor to obtain a protective order keeping the information away from anyone not directly involved in the litigation.

A person alleging violation can go to court and receive “no less than $2,500” for each violation of the act, and three times that much for an intentional violation. Knowingly violating the act would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

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