FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

 

In the Matter of a Request for Declaratory Ruling


 

    Declaratory Ruling #91

Commissioner of Consumer Protection, Petitioner

    

 

 

On February 9, 2000, the Commission considered and agreed to respond to a petition for a declaratory ruling filed by the Commissioner of Consumer Protection.

 

In his petition dated January 21, 2000, the petitioner presents the following facts:

 

"Under the Connecticut Solicitation of Charitable Funds Act, Conn. Gen. Stat. 21a-175 et. seq., Charitable organizations that solicit funds in Connecticut must register with the Public Charities Unit of the Department of Consumer Protection (hereinafter, the Department). Each registered charity must file an annual financial report the principal component of which is a copy of the organization's Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax - IRS form 990. The form 990, as filed with the IRS may include a Schedule of Contributors, i.e., a list of all persons who contributed money, securities or other property worth $5000 or more during the year.

 

"The Schedule of Contributors is, by IRS regulations, confidential and not open to public inspection. Because the Department's charity files are open to the public, we clearly admonish filers not to include the Schedule of Contributors in their submissions to this office and inform them that if they do include the Schedule it will become a public record.... Notwithstanding our admonitions, many charities do, inadvertently we presume, include the Schedule of Contributors in their financial reports filed here."

The petitioner seeks the Commission's ruling as to whether, pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-210, the Department must disclose to the public schedules of contributors when that information is inadvertently submitted by the charitable organization.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Declaratory Ruling #92 Page 2

 

The petitioner points out certain provisions of the Internal Revenue Code (26 USC 6104(b)) and federal regulations (CFR 301.6104(b)-1) that prohibit public inspection of the schedules. The Department, however, believes that the prohibitions in the Internal Revenue Code and regulations on public inspection of those documents are

directed only to the Internal Revenue Service itself and to those other government agencies that may require the filing of the schedule of contributors. The Commission agrees.

 

Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-210(a) provides in pertinent part:

 

"Except as otherwise provided by any federal law or state statute, all records maintained or kept on file by any public agency, whether or not such records are required by any law or by any rule or regulation, shall be public records and every person shall have the right to inspect such records promptly during regular office or business hours or to receive a copy of such records in accordance with the provisions of section 1-212."

 

Since the Commission is unaware of any state statute that provides for the confidentiality of the subject schedule of contributors, the question becomes whether federal law provides for the confidentiality of these records when filed with the Department under the circumstances described by the petitioner.

 

The Internal Revenue Code, 26 USC 6104(b), provides that "[n]othing in this subsection shall authorize the ... [Internal Revenue Service] to disclose the name or address of any contributor to any organization or trust...which is required to furnish such information [to the Internal Revenue Service]."

 

The plain language of this statute indicates that the Internal Revenue Service is prohibited from authorizing the disclosure of information relative to contributors to any other agency, entity or individual. It does not govern situations where exempt organizations themselves provide the Department with the names and addresses of their contributors.

Section 301.6104(b)-1(a)-(b) of the Code of Federal Regulations states that the "name and addresses of contributors...shall not be made available for public inspection under [26 USC] 6104(b)," and that the name and address of contributors "shall not be part of the public record." The Code of Federal Regulations also prohibits the disclosure of the amounts of contributions and bequests to an organization if the "disclosure of such information can reasonably be expected to identify any contributor." Id. at 301.601(b)-l(b)(2).

When, however, the above cited subsections, 26 CFR 301.6104(b)-l(a)-(b), are read in context with the succeeding subsections of the regulation, 26 CFR 301.6104(b)-l(c)-(d), it becomes apparent that the mandatory language in the regulation is directed solely to the Internal Revenue Service. Subsection (c) provides:

 

 

 

Declaratory Ruling #92 Page 3

"Place of inspection. Information furnished on the public portion of returns (as described in paragraph (a) of this section) shall be made available for public inspection at the Freedom of Information Reading Room, Internal Revenue Service, 111 Constitution Avenue, Washington, DC 20224...."

 

Further, subsection (d) provides:

"Procedure for public inspection.... Requests for public inspection must be in writing to or at any of the offices mentioned in paragraph (c) of this section...."

Thus, 26 CFR 301.6104(b)-1 is clearly a procedural regulation governing the operations of the Internal Revenue Service and cannot be read as imposing any prohibition or duty upon the Department.

In addition, the law in Connecticut is that confidentiality provisions applicable to one agency are not transferable to another agency in the absence of specific legislation. See Department of Transportation v. Freedom of Information Commission, Super Ct, JD Hartford, CV 98-0576720 (December 15, 1998, Hartmere, J.); Conn. Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission v. Freedom of Information Commission, Super Ct, JD Hartford/New Britain, CV 94 704063 (March 10, 1994, Maloney, J.). See also Steadwell v. Warden, 186 Conn. 153, 162-63 (1982).

Therefore, in response to the petition in these proceedings, the Commission issues the following ruling:

Pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-210, the Department must disclose to the public the schedules of contributors, as described above, when that information is inadvertently submitted to the Department by a charitable organization.

By Order of the Freedom of Information Commission

                                                                                   

                                                                                ____________________________
                                                                                    Frederick E. Hennick, Chairman

Dated: ___________________

 

Ordered:_________________

Dolores E. Tarnowski,
Clerk