pageok
pageok
pageok
No Duty To Disclose Racist Beliefs:

The New York Times reports that

In Missouri, a much wider constellation of Internet sites - with names like parishdonations.com and katrinafamilies.com - displayed pictures of the flood-ravaged South and drove traffic to a single site, InternetDonations.org, a nonprofit entity with apparent links to white separatist groups.

The registrant of those Web sites was sued by the state of Missouri yesterday for violating state fund-raising law and for "omitting the material fact that the ultimate company behind the defendants' Web sites supports white supremacy."

I'm trying to get my hands on the complaint, so I can see exactly what the state's theory is. But a requirement that fundraisers reveal potentially embarrassing information would be an unconstitutional form of speech compulsion, see Riley v. National Federation of the Blind (1989). In Riley, the Court struck down even an ideologically neutral requirement that fundraisers disclose in their pitches what fraction of the donations are used for fundraising expenses; a requirement that fundraisers disclose their reprehensible viewpoints -- not all viewpoints, presumably, but only certain ones that the state thinks are bad enough -- would be even more clearly unconstitutional.

I can understand why donors might feel cheated if they give money to some seemingly benevolent cause, and then learn that the cause's founders support white supremacy, Communism, or whatever else. But given Riley, the government may not mandate the inclusion of disclosures in the fundraiser's pitches, even in order to protect donors.

nk (mail) (www):
Thank you very much for making me feel old. Brennan, Blackmun, White and Marshall -- all Justices of my youth.
9.8.2005 8:21pm
Zed Pobre (mail) (www):
If the legal issue isn't exactly what viewpoint was disclosed, but merely that the money was being redirected to a cause other than that which was advertised, then I would suspect that there is a legitimate fraud issue, no? The fact that it's going to a group reprehensible enough to make the fact play very well to jurors is only going to be icing, not the cake itself.
9.8.2005 8:27pm
Steve:
Are you saying there is constitutional protection for a false claim that money is being raised for hurricane relief, where the money is actually going to promote white supremacy and racist websites? I don't quite understand.

The AG's press release is available here.
9.8.2005 8:36pm
Bisch:
I don't think it's clear the exact connection to white separatist groups. That is to say, are the donation sites really are providing some aid to hurricane victims (even if only white victims) with some of the aid going to "administrative costs" that support white separatist groups? Or are they flat-out scamming for the groups? Are the links that these groups have common leadership or are the groups themselves identical? Need more info if you're gonna claim fraud.
9.8.2005 8:53pm
Passing By (www):
Their website stated,
Here is Why You Will Feel Confident Giving to Hurricane Relief via Internet Donations fund-raising...

Whether you want to deal through Clinton Bush Katina Fund, Red Cross,

Salvation Army, Clergy, Internet Donations, or our special direct payments to Hurricane Survivor Projects

we can collect it for you in an easy one-stop location...
Perhaps that was a false representation.
9.8.2005 8:53pm
Seamus (mail):
"Are you saying there is constitutional protection for a false claim that money is being raised for hurricane relief, where the money is actually going to promote white supremacy and racist websites?"

The news article didn't say that the internet sites were falsely claiming the money was being raised for hurricane relief. What it said (or rather, what it reported the state of Missouri as saying) was simply that the internet sites didn't disclose that the ultimate owner of the websites was a white supremacist organization. Maybe the state was *also* claiming that the money wasn't actually going to hurricane relief, but it looks as though the nondisclosure charge was independent of any such claim, so that as far as the state was concerned, there would be a violation even if every penny were going to hurricane relief.
9.8.2005 9:01pm
Steve M:
Their website stated,
Here is Why You Will Feel Confident Giving to Hurricane

Relief via Internet Donations fund-raising...

Whether you want to deal through Clinton Bush Katina Fund, Red Cross,

Salvation Army, Clergy, Internet Donations, or our special direct payments to Hurricane Survivor Projects

we can collect it for you in an easy one-stop location...
Perhaps that was a false representation


The issue here is that is the website a charitable orgaisation or not - from the wording it seems that it is actually a commercial organisation offering a service of transfering your donation to other huricane relief efforts - they do not seem to be a commercial funrising provider to the charities concerned with a contract - rather they are entering into a commercial contract with the giver. They are therfore using commercial speech. The situation is therefore entirely different to the case law quoted. In the case law quoted the fundraisers were hired by the charity and not the giver therefore the charity had no commercial relationship with the giver.

Of course if the organisation was hired by the charities mentioned or if it was entirely voluntary and charged no fee then the above argument would not apply

What do you think?
9.8.2005 9:48pm
Carol Anne:
When I first read this story, it said that a not-for-profit was set up since Katrina hig the coast, and that all the website funnel traffic to one site.

Perhaps the AG of Missouri is using the suit as a way to find out if any of the donations were going to go the victims of Katrina? (Discovery is a wonderful process, even if you never intend to mount those courthouse steps.)

At times like these, quick crooks often set up bogus sites to collect money...for their own pockets. Certainly, there were several after the recent S.E. Asia tsunami, and some of them were probably prosecuted for fraud and other violations, too.
9.9.2005 12:58am
DK:
1. According to the NYT, the court order specifically prohibits them from not revealing that donations are intended only for white victims. That sounds reasonable to me -- the first amendment is not usually interpreted to prohibit the banning of deceptive advertising.

2. IMHO, it would be a very good idea for states to pass content-neutral laws prohibiting the creation of new fund-raising organizations or websites in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster. The opportunity for fraud and phishing is too great, and there is a compelling state interest in preventing fraud.
9.9.2005 11:29am
Amy Phillips (mail) (www):
DK:
1. I assume they're required to reveal that information if asked, "who are the beneficiaries of donations to your organization?" It would be incredibly onerous to advertising and solicitation if a content-neutral law required every fundraising group to make explicit every piece of demographic information about aid recipients. How would you word such a law so as to be value-neutral, but also not overly burdensome?

2. This seems not at all the most efficient way to prevent fraud. There are plenty of very legitimate reasons I would want to set up a fundraising organization in the aftermath of a disaster, especially a disaster that primarily affects people who have not traditionally been recipients of high levels of private charity from outside of their own region. I know, for example, that I personally prefer to donate to local, on-the-ground groups close to the hurricane-affected area than to a national group like the Red Cross which seems to be having some trouble getting supplies and aid where they are needed. Those groups didn't exist until a week ago, and yet they're doing some of the best work, according to people I know in the region. Additionally, there's no reason to think your proposal would prevent fraud. In fact, such a law might encourage criminals to set up lots of fake charities in non-crisis times so that they'd be all ready to commit fraud when crisis happened. In fact, your law would encourage people to set up long-term, far-reaching fake charities instead of smaller, single issue scam groups. So long as I didn't call too much attention to myself, I'd be unlikely to be discovered before a crisis hits, which reduces the likelihood of being investigated by the state or by private review. Basically, you'd be replacing short-sighted criminals with more forward-thinking, clever criminals.
9.9.2005 3:25pm
The Original TS (mail):
This story is part of a disturbing trend of Attorney Generals harrassing people/businesses who are morally repugnant but are enaging in perfectly legal activity.

Consider this story from the NY times.

AG subpoenas candy maker


The company manufactures Marijuana-flavored candy. There's nothing actually illegal about it. All of the ingredients are, so far as anyone knows, ingredients that commonly appear in candy in the U.S. But the Illinois AG is going after them anyway.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has issued a subpoena seeking information on the advertising and marketing practices of Chronic Candy.

"Just because something isn't illegal doesn't make it right. These are lollipops that are clearly targeted at kids,'' Madigan said. ''As parents, you spend an enormous amount of time and energy saying to kids, 'Don't smoke, don't drink, don't do drugs.' Anything the glamorizes or lures them into these destructive behaviors shouldn't be promoted."
[My emphasis.]

Of course, AGs and prosecutors have often pushed the envelope in going after those they believe are bad actors. Apparently, however, AGs no longer believe it necessary to even pretend they are enforcing the law. They forget they are lawyers and act like mere politicians who pander to their hearts' content.
9.9.2005 4:39pm
Seamus (mail):
"According to the NYT, the court order specifically prohibits them from not revealing that donations are intended only for white victims."

So I presume if the ACLU ran ads (like some I saw several years ago) displaying a copy of the Bill of Rights and asking people to contribute or join in order to defend it, a court could legitimately order them to add a disclaimer saying that none of the funds would go to defending the Second Amendment.
9.9.2005 6:01pm