Citizens United Sues NY Atty. Gen. for Violating 1st Amendment, Demanding Donor Info

Citizens United Sues NY Atty. Gen. for Violating 1st Amendment, Demanding Donor Info

On Wednesday, Citizens United sued New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, accusing him of ruling by fiat and violating the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of Citizens United and its supporters by demanding the disclosure of its confidential list of donors.

Citizens United President David Bossie said that Schneiderman’s “overreach needs to be addressed in a court of law” and was confident that lead attorney and former FEC Chairman Don McGahn will help the group “prevail and right this injustice foisted upon Americans by the New York Attorney General.”

“The First Amendment is under attack by the New York Attorney General and, as we did with the Federal Election Commission, Citizens United will fight for our rights set forth by the U.S. Constitution,” Bossie said in a statement.

Schneiderman demanded that Citizens United and Citizens United Foundation file their IRS Form 990, which reveals the names, addresses, and contribution amounts of top donors, with the New York State Charities Bureau in order to solicit donations for charitable purposes. Schneiderman has claimed a state regulation allows him to demand donor information from groups that spend more than $10,000 on elections in the state.

Citizens United, which won the landmark 2010 Supreme Court decision that determined that corporations’ political speech was protected under the First Amendment, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. It asks the court to block the enforcement of a 2006 New York regulation on four grounds:

1) The requirement infringes on the First Amendment rights of Citizens United, Citizens United Foundation and their supporters by imposing unconstitutional conditions on the exercise for free speech rights and the rights to freedom of association. Among other things, the lawsuit says the law on which the regulation was crafted confers the Attorney General with unbridled discretion in regulating protected political speech. It also claims that requiring the courts to turn their confidential donor information to the New York Government “will chill the speech of both Plaintiffs and donors by intruding upon and destroying the promise of confidentiality when donors agree to fund Plaintffs’ advocacy efforts.”

2) The requirement violates both groups’ 14 th Amendment rights to due process of law because the Attorney General interpretation of the regulation amounts to a change in long-standing policy without prior notice.

3) The requirement violates New York State’s Administrative Procedures Act, because the Attorney General changed the state’s long-standing interpretation of its regulation without following the Act’s formal notice and comment requirements applicable to rule changes. The regulation in question was adopted in 2006, but it was not until 2012, after Schneiderman was elected Attorney General, that the AG interpreted the regulation to disclosure of the Schedule B for groups such as Citizens United and Citizens United Foundation.

4) Federal law governing the confidentiality of tax return information pre-empts the New York disclosure requirement. The lawsuit calls Schneiderman’s new policy “an end run around the federal statutory provisions protecting donor privacy and eviscerates all privacy protections for donors.”