U.S. News

Citizens United loses free speech appeal over New York donor rules

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Thursday threw out a constitutional challenge by the conservative group Citizens United to New York state’s requirement that registered charities disclose their donors annually.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan rejected claims that the requirement violated the First Amendment because it intimidated donors from contributing, cutting off money needed to conduct free speech, and was a prior restraint on the ability to solicit donations.

Writing for a 3-0 panel, Circuit Judge Rosemary Pooler said New York has important interests in stopping fraud and abuse by charities, and requiring them to disclose names, addresses and contributions of their largest donors makes enforcement easier.

“While we think it plausible that some donors will find it intolerable for law enforcement officials to know where they have made donations, we see no reason to believe that this risk of speech chilling is more than that which comes with any disclosure regulation,” Pooler wrote.

The court also found no reason to believe that New York and its Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, enforced the disclosure requirement “in anything but a uniformly content-neutral fashion.”

Citizens United was also the plaintiff in the landmark 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case allowing unlimited independent spending by corporations and labor unions in election campaigns.

It advocates for limited government, free enterprise and strong families.

“We are extremely disappointed by today’s adverse ruling,” general counsel Michael Boos said in a statement. He said the group may ask the entire appeals court to rehear the case, or appeal to the Supreme Court.

Schneiderman, in a statement, said the decision “affirms that Citizens United can no longer shroud its biggest donors in secrecy,” and was “a victory for all those who believe in fairness” in the non-profit sector.

Thursday’s decision largely affirmed U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein’s August 2016 ruling dismissing most claims.

It also dismissed a claim that Schneiderman’s decision to enforce the disclosure requirement more aggressively without saying he was doing so was a due process violation.

The court said no advance notice was needed because charities were already expected to follow the law.The case is Citizens United et al v. Schneiderman, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 16-3310.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Phil Berlowitz and Susan Thomas