Albany, NY — The Empire Center for Public Policy and New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation (NYFRF) have sued Attorney General Letitia James over ongoing First Amendment violations at the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) connected to confidential charitable donor records.
In 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in AFP v. Bonta that requiring charitable organizations to disclose the identities of their large donors to a state attorney general’s office imposed “a widespread burden on donors’ associational rights.” On that basis, the Court found that donors’ First Amendment rights had been violated.
In similar fashion, AG James is keeping donor information that her office improperly requested from charitable organizations. Specifically, the OAG has requested and received IRS Form 990, Schedule B from charitable organizations; this document contains donor names and amounts donated. This information has been the subject of at least one security breach that AG James has acknowledged. The issue first came to light in an August 2022 Politico article that revealed donor identities from a leaked filing bearing the Attorney General’s official stamp.
After the story’s publication, Empire Center filed multiple Freedom of Information Law requests seeking information on the OAG’s document retention and destruction policies, as well as the identities of OAG employees who had access to unredacted documents containing donor information. The Attorney General’s inadequate responses failed to demonstrate that donors’ rights under the First Amendment were being protected.
“For years, the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau wrongfully collected confidential donor information, and we now know that data hasn’t been kept secure,” said Tim Hoefer, President and CEO of the Empire Center. “The Attorney General’s actions, or lack thereof, since the leaks have shown she has no plan to stop violating donors’ First Amendment rights, leaving us with no option but to take her to court to enforce the law.”
“NYFRF filed Schedule Bs with the OAG from 2005 until 2021. The idea that our supporters’ sensitive information is so poorly protected is appalling,” said Jason J. McGuire, President of NYFRF. “The Attorney General owes every New Yorker an apology, an explanation, and a promise that nothing like this will ever happen again.”
Empire Center and NYFRF are asking the court to order the Attorney General to destroy all Schedule Bs in her possession containing donor names and to stop her from collecting redacted Schedule Bs from charitable organizations in the future.