The West Virginia Senate on Monday passed a bill that would prevent the government from releasing information about people who donate to certain nonprofit organizations.
It was the second year in a row senators approved the measure that would prevent the state government from releasing information about who donated money to certain nonprofit organizations, sometimes called 501(c) organizations for the section of federal law that defines those groups.
Senate Bill 16, also called the “Protect Our Right to Unite Act,” was approved on a 34-0 vote with no debate.
“The purpose of this bill is to protect the membership and voter information from agencies of the government and from public disclosure by agencies of the government, except where is necessary,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said.
ACLU West Virginia has supported the bill. It’s policy director, Eli Baumwell, on Monday applauded the bill, saying it “reaffirms the vital freedom of association.”
“The groups that people join are none of the government’s business,” Baumwell said.
A similar bill passed the Senate in 2019, but it didn’t gain any traction in the House, dying in that chamber’s Judiciary Committee.
There are 29 categories of nonprofit organizations defined in Section 501(c) in federal law. Depending on their category, nonprofit organizations can participate in varying amounts of political activity, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
The most commonly cited category of 501(c) organizations are 501(c)(3) organizations, which are classified as charitable organizations. Other categories of 501(c) organizations are related to certain industries and issues, including teachers’ retirement and veterans’ organizations.
Even though 501(c) organizations may have to file reports with the federal government, depending on their categories and the amount of money they take in annually, federal law does not require those organizations to report donor information.
Organizations defined in 501(c) are separate from political action committees, more commonly known as PACs. PACs are, as evidenced by their titles, political in nature, and those committees are required to report donor and other information to the federal government.
With 47 days left in the legislative session, SB 16 now advances to the House of Delegates.