Conservative think tank Americans for Prosperity (AFP), co-founded by principals of Koch Industries, sued in federal court to prevent ultra-liberal California Attorney General Kamala Harris from using her office to disclose the names and addresses of their 90,000 donors.
Harris may have a problem with AFP being a major force behind the Tea Party movement and its support of free markets, entrepreneurship, lower taxes, and limited government spending and regulation.
As a federally registered 501(c)(4), not-for-profit educational organization, Americans for Prosperity is allowed under federal law to raise and spend money educating the public regarding issues associated with political campaigns and elections, as long as the charitable organization does not spend money in support of a specific candidate. Contributions to a 501(c)(4)s are not deductible against income taxes and therefore federal rules allow donors names to be “redacted” from public disclosure.
But Attorney General Harris in October took advantage of an old requirement under state law that California “charities” must submit copies of IRS public filings, known as the Form 990 that lists donors over $5,000 on “Schedule B.” Harris’ office threatened AFP that failure to comply would result in suspension of the “charity” and daily fines against each member of the Board of directors individually, according to the complaint.
Conservatives were shocked at the demand and suspicious that Attorney General Harris intended to engage in the type of alleged unethical action by IRS manager Lois Lerner, who may have used the IRS to retaliate against Tea Party members.
Americans for Prosperity complained that they had registered every year in California since 2001 and had never received such a request in the past. But then Harris’s office also demanded that another conservative group called Center for Competitive Politics 501(c)(3) hand over their donor list.
Harris warned the “charitable foundation” this summer that AFP’s registration was “incomplete” for 2011 and 2012 because the group did not include a “Schedule B” list of donor names and addresses. According to a report by the Los Angeles Times, the Attorney General’s spokesman preposterously stated AFP had been out of charitable compliance for over a decade, but did not receive a demand because the “section responsible for enforcement has been chronically underfunded for years.”
According to an article by Steven Greenhut of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Americans for Prosperity stated in their civil rights lawsuit against Harris’s office, “California’s Attorney General, for reasons known only to her, is nonetheless trying to compel disclosure of the confidential Schedule B by nonprofits around the state.” The foundation warned that releasing the names could result in violence against the donors: “Grotesque threats have been leveled against known associates of the foundation, ranging from threats to kill or maim to threats to firebomb buildings.”
Attorney General Harris’ real concern may be that Americans for Prosperity’s election spending seems to be spectacularly successful. Open Secrets reported the 20 candidates AFP opposed with $4,449,460 of spending in the 2014 elections was successful 65% of the time.
Americans for Prosperity seeks a federal injunction barring Attorney General Harris and the State of California from demanding its donor information and an affirmative declaration that Harris’ demands violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution.
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