SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Three Utah nonprofits are challenging a state law that forces organizations to report donors who give more than $750 to influence campaigns or voters.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court this week, the groups said the law unconstitutionally forces them to forgo their free speech right to speak on political issues, or risk losing donors who may not want to be disclosed.
Representatives for the nonprofits said that kept them from weighing in on a proposed sales tax increase that was on the ballot this fall in 17 Utah counties.
The Utah attorney general’s office has not filed a response to the lawsuit and office spokeswoman Camille Anderson declined to comment.
The lawsuit was filed by the Libertas Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank, as well as the Utah Taxpayers Association, a tax watchdog group, and its affiliated nonprofit, the Utah Taxpayers Legal Foundation.
While the groups may testify at the Legislature and weigh in on proposed changes to Utah law, the nonprofits draw a distinction between their activity and that of a political action committee.
Libertas Institute President Connor Boyack points to federal laws that bar nonprofits from supporting or opposing candidates or dedicating a large part of their activity to trying to influence legislation.
“We are not political organizations. We are educational nonprofits,” Boyack said. “We do engage politically, but only as an insubstantial part of our overall work.”
Had the law been in place in California in 2008, Boyack said, it would have required the Mormon church to disclose the names, addresses and contributions of every tithe-paying member of the faith because the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spent money supporting the Proposition 8 gay marriage ban.
The 2013 law requires nonprofits and businesses that spend at least $750 a year for political purposes to disclose the names, addresses and contributions of their donors.
Donors do not have to be disclosed if the person signs a statement saying the nonprofit or business may not use the money for a political issues.
Before the law, corporations were only required to report money they spent.
Utah is the only state to require corporations, including businesses and nonprofits, to file fundraising reports. Forty-four states completely bar corporations from giving to political campaigns or limit the amount of money that they can give. Utah is one of only six states that allow unlimited donations from corporations to flow to campaigns.
Utah also requires reports from candidates, labor organizations, political parties, political action committees and political issue committees.
Both the Utah Taxpayers Association and Libertas Institute have formed political action committees but have not reported activity for years. Both groups have said they may use them in the future.
House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, who sponsored the law, said if political action committees and candidates are required to make disclosures while exercising their First Amendment rights, then nonprofits should face the same requirement.
“If they don’t have to disclose, then why would I? Why would a PAC?” Hughes said.
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