Friday, March 31, 2006

Florida court says financial supporters
of website can remain anonymous

Financial contributors to a website that is used to fund litigation against the city of Maitland can remain anonymous, the 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach has ruled.

Disclosing the names would violate the contributors' right to freedom of assembly, the court said, just as the Supreme Court ruled in NAACP v. Alabama in 1959.

Michael and Joan Matthews believed that the city of Maitland did not follow proper procedures when it approved the development of a seven-story, multi-use structure. They filed a lawsuit challenging the development, and started a website through which supporters could donate funds.

The city tried to force the Matthewses to disclose the names of the contributors to the website.

The appellate court noted the chilling effect that could occur if supporters of political causes who wished to remain anonymous ran the risk of being revealed in litigation of this sort. Because the names of the supporters was not relevant to the underlying dispute over the real estate development, disclosure would be improper. The court said:
[T]he freedom to associate for the advancement of beliefs, whether pertaining to political, economic, religious or cultural matters, is an inseparable aspect of the liberty assured by the due process clause and ... the compelled disclosure of membership in an organization engaged in advocacy constitutes an interference with the right to freedom of assembly.
Read the opinion here.

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