ACLU Sues to Block New Jersey Donor Disclosure Law

(CN) – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey sued state election officials Tuesday, asking a federal judge to declare that a donor disclosure law aimed at social welfare groups violates rights to free speech and association.

In its complaint filed in Trenton federal court, the group seeks a permanent injunction against New Jersey Senate Bill 150, which Democratic Governor Phil Murphy signed into law in June.

The ACLU says it could be forced to disclose personal information on donors who contribute more than $10,000. Social welfare organizations are also required to reveal expenditures of $3,000. In addition, the law imposes restrictions on the people organizations put in leadership positions, according to the complaint.

Jeanne LoCicero, legal director of the ACLU of New Jersey, said the law discourages people from working with organizations that are advocating for changes in social policy.

The civil rights group has been pushing back against the bill “since its inception,” the attorney said in a phone interview Tuesday evening. Murphy vetoed an earlier iteration of the law. Then in June, the New Jersey Legislature passed an identical bill that Murphy signed with reservations, she said.

“We have been concerned that it was sweeping up nonprofits who are involved in social welfare advocacy and are not involved in electoral campaign work,” LoCicero said.

The lawsuit says that provisions of the law, referred to as S150, are vague and overbroad and that the court should strike them down as unconstitutional under the First and 14th Amendments. The law could impact all social welfare organizations in the state by requiring them to reveal information about donors and activities related to voter education and advocacy, according to the ACLU.

“S150 violates the associational and expressive rights of plaintiffs and their supporters, and chills the exercise thereof, by requiring, on pain of civil and criminal penalty, the disclosure of the names and addresses of plaintiffs’ contributors, unless plaintiffs choose to forgo speech on matters of public concern,” the complaint states.

In a statement, the ACLU said the law has united “ideologically diverse” groups including Americans for Prosperity. The libertarian group has also challenged the law in the New Jersey federal court.

According to the lawsuit, Governor Murphy had misgivings about the law and admitted that it might be unlawful before the bill passed on June 10. State lawmakers said they would revise provisions of the bill to remedy Murphy’s concerns, but so far it has not been corrected, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the law is unconstitutional and a permanent injunction preventing its enforcement. It is set to take effect on Oct. 15.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, and New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission officials Eric Jaso, Stephen Holden, and Marguerite Simon are named defendants.

Attorney General’s Office spokesman Leland Moore said he could not comment on pending litigation.

Representatives from the Election Law Enforcement Commission were not available for comment after business hours Tuesday.

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