As taxpayers, we understand and respect the need for transparency in our government institutions, including the nonprofit organizations that raise money for these institutions. But as longtime donors, volunteers and leaders of many nonprofits, we are alarmed by House Bill 29 – because it fails to consider the privacy rights of nonprofit donors and employees, and because it will have unintended negative consequences throughout New Mexico.
Everyone who donates to non-profit organizations that support state or municipal institutions – including public colleges, universities, museums and libraries, just to name a few – should also be concerned about House Bill 29 and its resulting erosion of personal privacy. Every donor should ask: “If this bill passes, does it mean anyone can ask for my information including my address, phone, email, giving history, gift amounts and other information? Who can request information about the nonprofits I support? Might they learn the details of my personal finances or estate plan? If someone accesses my information, how will they use it? Will they harass or troll me because of the donation information they were able to access by means of a public records request?”
Unfortunately, House Bill 29 ignores the very clear distinction between transparency as it pertains to the fiduciary responsibilities of a nonprofit and mandatory public disclosure of a donor’s private information that can be used for telemarketing, or worse, identity theft, fraud and extortion.
What about employees of these nonprofits? Under House Bill 29, can anyone demand an employee’s address, contact information or salary? What if an employee is in a domestic abuse situation? Does this bill allow the abuser to request information and find their spouse? Can a disgruntled former employee ask someone to request records on the person who fired him or her so he or she can confront that employee at their home? Will employees become targets and be harassed or trolled for insider information?
While the public should know that nonprofits supporting our government institutions are operating in an ethical and lawful manner, the public should not have the right to know how any particular donor chooses to support such an organization. Giving choices are a person’s private business and should not be subject to public records requests. In its current form, House Bill 29 will undoubtedly lead to less support from generous donors, which will only harm our government institutions.
Likewise, the public should not have the right to obtain personal or sensitive information about nonprofit employees. In its current form, House Bill 29 will only make it more difficult for nonprofits to recruit and retain qualified employees.
These cannot be the intended consequences of House Bill 29.
We hope our legislators will amend the bill to strike a balance between transparency and the legitimate need for donor and employee privacy. A bill clearly focused on audit, compliance and donor intent is a more appropriate approach than exposing thousands of donors and employees to unnecessary harm through unfettered public access to their private information.
Former chairs of the UNM Foundation Board of Trustees Gary L. Gordon, Carl M. Alongi and Anne Yegge also authored this op-ed. All the authors are donors to many causes across New Mexico.