Sneaking Big Brother into California

Just suppose for a moment that you own a small business — a janitorial service, for example — and in order to retain one of your best clients you would need to complete a form answering questions such as: “Are you gay or transgender?” Or perhaps you might be an employee or officer of a small local nonprofit applying for a major foundation grant — and your application required disclosure of the race and gender of all your agency associates.

These are a few of the things that would actually happen if a Corporations Code amendment labeled AB 624 becomes California law. Astonishingly, this absurdly intrusive violation of privacy has already passed the Assembly on a 45-29 party-line vote. It now awaits action in the state Senate; and if it does not die there, we can only hope that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will veto it.

AB 624 perfectly exemplifies political correctness run amok. It would force California’s biggest philanthropic foundations — about three dozen with assets greater than $250 million — to survey the gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation of its managers and board of directors, along tallying “diversity” percentages of its staff. Charitable powerhouses such as the Google, Hewlett and Packard foundations would then have to publish this personal information on their Web sites and annual reports.

The craziness does not stop there. Foundations would also need to collect and publish the gender-race-ethnicity-sexuality data for every nonprofit they make grants to and for the owners of every company they do business with. The object is to enable the state to track the percentage of foundation dollars granted to nonprofits with a board or staff that is at least 50 percent minorities; plus the percentage of contracts with minority-owned businesses.

This whole fiasco is stealth Big Brother in an allegedly good cause. Difficult as it might be to believe, AB 624 was genuinely designed for a supposedly benign purpose. But the bill’s well-meaning proponents seemed clueless about the malignant side effects they were creating.

So many things are wrong with AB 624 that it is hard to know where to begin criticizing. Yes, California foundations should do their good works transparently and fairly. But if any real problem exists, there must be better ways to remedy it than to force the state’s strongest foundations to waste their resources on collecting and publicizing confidential data.

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