A conservative advocacy group backed by the Koch brothers won a First Amendment victory this week denying California Attorney General Kamala Harris access to the names of conservative nonprofit members and contributors.
Harris, the California Attorney General and a Democratic candidate for outgoing Senator Barbara Boxer’s Senate seat, Ka has been attempting to overturn post-Watergate reforms to the Internal Revenue Code designed to protect confidential federal tax return information by demanding access to the names of contributors to conservative nonprofits.
The Koch Brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF) and two other nonprofits filed lawsuits in the Central District Court in Los Angeles alleging Harris had violated the First Amendment by requiring charities that wanting to solicit contributions from Californians to disclose to the State of California all donors anywhere in the United States listed on the nonprofit’s IRS tax return Schedule B. Ms. Harris was also alleged to have attempted coercion to acquire donors’ names by threatening denial of permits and demanding huge fines for failure to comply.
AFPF argued that the California Attorney General’s actions violated the rights of association and privacy expressed in the 1958 landmark Supreme Court decision NAACP v. Alabama, in which that state’s Democrat attorney general tried to kill the civil rights movement in his state by acquiring the names of all NAACP’s members and financial supporters in every state.
As a result of a long history of racist and political bias, Congress passed a number of laws to ensure all charity donor information on Schedule B is protected as confidential. The federal tax code currently includes a regime of control and monitoring over state attorneys general, when they are granted access to donors’ names for legitimate law enforcement purposes. Violation by state officials is subject to civil and felony penalties.
The conservative nonprofits claimed there was a substantial risk Ms. Harris and/or her staff would leak this confidential data to their ideological opponents and her allies. The nonprofits cited various acts of lawlessness and law-breaking exposed by congressional investigators regarding Lois Lerner’s IRS staff leaking the National Organization for Marriage’s Schedule B donor information of the to their opponents.
The case in front of U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real may have been won on the testimony of California Senior Assistant Attorney General Tania Ibanez, who obfuscated about whether the fact that AFPF sued to protect its rights made her suspicious of the organization.
AFPF attorney Derek Shaffer asked Ibanez at trial if she was suspicious of the foundation because of its lawsuit. After Ibanez testified she had not yet made a determination, Shaffer played a January 6, 2016 video deposition where Ibanez said:
“You’re suing us and you don’t want to give us your Schedule B. So, that puts my suspicions on alert.” Ibanez added, “The litigation caused me to have some concerns.”
Despite Harris saying she plans to appeal the court’s ruling, the issue may become moot with the U.S. House of Representative’s Ways and Means Committee passing a bill on April 28 titled Preventing IRS Abuse and Protecting Free Speech Act on a party-line vote, which would eliminate what Republicans dubbed a “superfluous IRS form, known as the Schedule B, which the IRS has used to improperly target tax-exempt organizations.”
Democrats voted against the bill, claiming that the review by the IRS is critical to ensure foreign funds do not covertly enter U.S. election politics.