Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Carteret, said the measure may not be needed if the Supreme Court makes the right decision in the California case, “but we all know that sometimes courts don’t make the right decisions.” He also acknowledged he doesn’t know of any effort by government officials in North Carolina to access these donor lists and described the measure as pro-active. A group called People United for Privacy has pushed the issue in North Carolina, along with the John Locke Foundation, a right-leaning think tank. The issue unites some of the left and the right: The ACLU of North Carolina has backed this bill. Democrats united against the measure during Tuesday’s party-line vote. Even Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue, who initially co-sponsored the bill, voted against it.
Under Senate Bill 636, non-profits in the state would be forbidden from revealing donors names, including to the government, without their permission. Bills like this are moving in a number of statehouses around the country, and much of the issue ties back to an argument over donor lists in California. “Our society hangs in the balance,” state Sen. Bob Steinburg, who has advanced a number of conspiracy theories, told his colleagues during floor debate on the bill.
The state Attorney General’s Office there sought information from charities as part of the registration process, saying it was needed to police fraud. Several groups have asked the federal courts system to block this requirement, and the matter is pending now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Democrats raised questions about whether the bill would shield political giving. Republicans said the bill was a crucially important defense against cancel culture, meant to keep people from facing blow back should their charitable donations to causes their neighbors don’t share become public knowledge.
Senate Bill 636, Jackson and fellow Charlotte Democrat Natasha Marcus said, makes things even more opaque. “Are we all exactly sure what the consequences (of the bill will be)?” Jackson asked. “No. We’re talking about tax law … Safe to say it’s a very dark cloud. We should all be moving in the other direction.” They “launder the money … and then spend it on our behalf,” Jackson said Tuesday.
Some non-profits exist primarily as “dark money” groups, spending part of what they collect on issue advertising that figures heavily into political races. Often these groups give to each other, moving money around until it’s difficult to determine what came from where. Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Charlotte Democrat running now for the U.S. Senate, said he wasn’t going to speak against the bill Tuesday, until Steinburg raised the stakes to society hanging in the balance.
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