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Contributions Public Data

May 24, 2019

The state Supreme Court soon will decide whether the Harrisburg city government should have to disclose the identities of individuals and groups who contributed to a fund to help the city defend against a lawsuit brought by gun rights activists.

After the city in 2015 passed gun restrictions greater than those in state law, the gun rights groups sued. When the city established the defense fund, the activists filed a Right to Know request for the identities of the donors.

The city provided a list of contributions with donors’ names redacted, contending that the donors had a right to privacy and that technical definitions within the law precluded their identification.

Later, the state Office of Open Records disagreed, ordering release of the data. But the Commonwealth and Superior courts overturned that decision, leaving the final appeal to the Supreme Court.

Recent arguments dealt with the technical aspects of the law that were cited by Harrisburg, but the issue is much more fundamental. Citizens simply have a right to know who attempts to influence the government and policy through donations. Otherwise, the state would be riddled with absurd situations like that in Dunmore, where officials refused for four years to identify the “anonymous” donor of a new police building as businessman Louis DeNaples.

If the court finds that the law shields the identities of Harrisburg’s donors, the Legislature should amend the law to ensure that all such donations are subject to public disclosure.

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