Federal court slaps down Kamala Harris grab for donor lists

“Today a US District Court ruled in favor of Americans for Prosperity Foundation’s lawsuit against California Attorney General Kamala Harris, ruling that her demands for the Foundation to hand over its list of members and supporters is unconstitutional.” [AFP] We’ve repeatedly covered Harris’s unprecedented drive to demand disclosure of donor lists by nonprofits that carry on activities in California, a step likely to lead to private and public retaliation against individuals and groups revealed to have donated to unpopular or controversial causes.

As the WSJ notes in an editorial, U.S. District Judge Manuel Real “declared her disclosure requirement an unconstitutional burden on First Amendment rights,” finding that there was scant evidence the disclosures were necessary to prevent charity fraud, that (contrary to assurances) her office had “systematically failed to maintain the confidentiality” of nonprofits’ donor lists, some 1,400 of which Harris’s office had in fact published online. As for retaliation against donors, “although the Attorney General correctly points out that such abuses are not as violent or pervasive as those encountered in NAACP v. Alabama or other cases from [the civil rights] era,” he wrote, “this Court is not prepared to wait until an AFP opponent carries out one of the numerous death threats made against its members.”

A plaintiff’s lawyer and union ally, Harris recently surfaced as an apparently key player in the alliance of state attorneys general intent on using criminal investigatory powers to probe so-called climate denial at non-profit research and advocacy groups as well as at energy companies like ExxonMobil. That makes at least two episodes in which Harris has signaled interest in unprecedented and aggressive steps to pry open the internal workings of private advocacy organizations that take positions adverse to hers. Harris is a leading contender in the Democratic Senate primary to succeed California Senator Barbara Boxer.

Update: Now expanded and adapted into a longer post at Cato.

4 Comments

  • Of course Attorney General Harris will suffer absolutely no criminal or civil penalties for blatantly violating the legal rights of others, and grossly abusing the authority of her government office. Thus there is no practical deterrent to her continued abuses of citizens.

    Everyone is equal before the law, except those with a government job title… who are above the law. The ABA has no problem with that.

    • Until Conservatives (ie, people who respect the Constitution) are willing to hit Leftists (ie, people who don’t respect the Constitution) with all the weapons and force liberals use, liberals will continue to abuse power.

  • Back in the McCarthyite 1950s, the Right hit harder than the Left. That was also a time when left-leaning intellectuals, academics, and judges came up with some of the most eloquent and principled defenses of free speech.

  • […] On Free Speech And Privacy Thwarted — For Now” [George Leef, Forbes on AFP v. Harris, earlier] Bill filed by Rep. Peter Roskam would keep IRS from collecting names of donors to nonprofits […]