Albany, NY — Citing the collection and mishandling of sensitive donor financial information, the Empire Center and Institute for Free Speech have sent a formal demand letter to the Office of the New York Attorney General (OAG) to stop ongoing First Amendment violations.
In 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled in AFP v. Bonta that California could not force charitable organizations to disclose certain federal tax documents, as the collection of those documents represent a threat to the privacy of donors — and therefore a violation of First Amendment rights. New York was one of two other states that required those documents to be submitted annually.
Although New York’s OAG stopped collecting those documents following the SCOTUS decision, it was revealed last summer that the OAG had, apparently, not destroyed the documents it had collected when one of those documents — containing private donor information and bearing the office’s stamp — was published in a Politico article.
After no serious public acknowledgement or explanation by the AG’s office, the Empire Center filed several Freedom of Information Law requests to get a better understanding of how the document was leaked. Among other requests, the Center sought the AG’s document retention and destruction policies, how and where these documents are maintained, and who was authorized to access the documents.
Having received no responsive records after months of delay, the Empire Center is demanding that the OAG certify the destruction of any documents it is keeping in violation of the First Amendment as apparent from the OAG not being able to disclose document destruction records. The Empire Center also filed several appeals on the outstanding, long-delayed FOIL requests.
“Based on the attorney general’s lack of response, it’s reasonable to conclude that the OAG continues to violate the First Amendment,” said Tim Hoefer, president and CEO of the Empire Center. “There is currently no assurance for donors to New York registered charities that their sensitive information is actually protected, and that it won’t be leaked, or worse, used for retaliatory or political purposes.”
The Empire Center, based in Albany, is an independent, not-for-profit, non-partisan think tank dedicated to promoting policies that can make New York a better place to live, work and raise a family.