Search Results for ‘california donor’

California AG wants nonprofits’ donor lists

“Do you donate to the Sierra Club or the National Rifle Association? California Attorney General Kamala Harris wants to know who you are, what your address is and how much you give….

“Every American has the right to support the causes we believe in without the fear of harassment and retaliation. Disclosure mandates undermine this basic freedom, dry up donations to charities and silence political speech.” [Jon Riches, Sacramento Bee]

California AG Kamala Harris demands donor list of a 501 (c) (3)

That raises the possibility of later disclosure of the information, retaliation against donors, or both; whether it’s unusual enough for the U.S. Supreme Court to step in to stop it remains to be seen. Harris’s target and adversary in the resulting suit, by coincidence or otherwise, is the “Center for Competitive Politics, a vigorous supporter of political free-speech rights that does not get involved in election campaigns” but does speak out strongly about the First Amendment implications of campaign regulation; we’ve often cited its work and that of its founder, Brad Smith. [Lyle Denniston, SCOTUSBlog; Instapundit, citing “Supreme Court’s 1958 decision in NAACP v. Alabama, in which the Court unanimously protected the NAACP’s membership lists against compelled disclosure to Alabama officials.”]

Second Circuit: Schneiderman can unmask private group’s donors

At least since 1958’s NAACP v. Alabama, it has been thought settled that state demands for the disclosure of private organizations’ membership and donor lists poses very real risks of First Amendment infringement to which courts must be sensitive. Recent years, however, have seen concerted efforts to strip anonymity from donors to at least some non-profit groups with a policy emphasis. One danger — or feature, from the standpoint of some groups doing the campaigning — is that if target groups can be made to divulge such information, their supporters can be exposed to pressure, shaming, and public and private retaliation.

Kamala Harris, then Attorney General of California and now Senator from that state, did not fare well in court in such a campaign while in state office, but New York’s left-leaning Attorney General Eric Schneiderman seems to be enjoying better luck in a similar push. A Second Circuit panel has ruled in favor of his demands for the donor lists of Citizens United, the conservative group whose role in a landmark First Amendment case at the Supreme Court has made it, along with that case, “the Emmanuel Goldstein of the American left.” It will not be surprising if the Supreme Court is soon asked to reaffirm the protections of NAACP v. Alabama. [Trevor Burrus and Reilly Stephens, Cato, and thanks for mention; see also my April 2016 Cato piece]

California “climate science truth” bill would revive lapsed statutes of limitation

An extraordinary bill in the California legislature, promoted as making it easier to sue fossil fuel companies over their involvements in public debate, would lift the four-year statute of limitations of the state’s already extremely liberal Unfair Competition Law, otherwise known as s. 17200 — and retrospectively, so as to revive decades’ worth of time-lapsed claims “with respect to scientific evidence regarding the existence, extent, or current or future impacts of anthropogenic induced anthropogenic-induced climate change.” Despite a 2004 round of voter-sponsored reform which curbed some of its worst applications, s. 17200 still enables what a California court called “legal shakedown” operations in which “ridiculously minor” violations serve as the predicate for automatic entitlement to damages, attorneys’ fees, and other relief.

Combined with the plans laid by California Attorney General Kamala Harris — part of the alliance of AGs that has sought to investigate not only oil, gas, and coal companies, but private advocacy groups and university scientists who have played a role in what is characterized as “climate denial” — the bill would begin laying the legal groundwork for an astonishingly broad campaign of inquisition and, potentially, expropriation. The bill was approved by a subcommittee and was further amended May 10 to provide that climate science-related claims of any age would begin a four-year reviver period as of next January. [Northern California Record; the left-leaning Union of Concerned Scientists has a piece supporting the bill]

Section 2(b) of the bill declares it the California legislature’s policy to promote “redress for unfair competition practices committed by entities that have deceived, confused, or misled the public on the risks of climate change or financially supported activities that have deceived, confused, or misled the public on those risks” [emphasis added] — a very clear signal that the target is public issue advocacy, and not merely (say) advertising that is directed at consumers in their capacity as buyers of gasoline at the pump. Last month, a federal court slapped down, as an unconstitutional burden on First Amendment rights, California Attorney General Kamala Harris’s demand for the donor lists of nonprofits that carry on operations in California.

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.

October 2 roundup

  • Supreme Court should step in to protect freedom of association against California’s push to obtain donor identities for controversial groups [Ilya Shapiro and James Knight on Cato certiorari amicus brief in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Becerra, earlier]
  • Civil liberties implications pretty dire if taken seriously: “Trump White House Mulls Monitoring the Mentally Ill for Future Violence” [Cato Daily Podcast with Julian Sanchez and Caleb Brown]
  • Online platform liability: “all the ignorance about and hostility toward Section 230 of late has been infecting the courts.” Take for example the Ninth Circuit [Cathy Gellis, TechDirt]
  • New book (not seen by me) by Bruce Cannon Gibney, The Nonsense Factory: The Making and Breaking of the American Legal System, draws a favorable review from Tyler Cowen and a less favorable one from Mark Pulliam;
  • The loophole that lets 3.1 million persons — even millionaires — collect SNAP benefits even though they wouldn’t otherwise meet eligibility standards, and why some state agencies are fine with this [Angela Rachidi and Matt Weidinger, AEI]
  • Mark your calendar for Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Nov. 16: I’ll be a featured speaker (as will author Dave Daley) at “Reclaiming Our Democracy: The PA Conference to End Gerrymandering” [Fair Districts PA]

February 8 roundup

  • Freedom of association is at risk from California’s effort to crack open donor names of advocacy nonprofits [Ilya Shapiro on Cato Ninth Circuit amicus]
  • “Center for Class Action Fairness wins big in Southwest Airlines coupons case, triples relief for class members” [CEI, earlier here, here]
  • Campus kangaroo courts: KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor Jr. have spent a week guestblogging at Volokh on their new book (first, second, third, fourth, fifth, earlier links; plus Christina Hoff Sommers and WSJ video interviews with Stuart Taylor, Jr.]
  • Despite his I’m-no-libertarian talk, two 2015 cases show Judge Neil Gorsuch alert to rights of Drug War defendants [Jacob Sullum]
  • Drug pricing, estate/inheritance double tax whammy, shaken baby case, mini-OIRA in my new Maryland policy roundup [Free State Notes]
  • And the legal fees flowed like water: dispute with Georgia over water rights has clocked $72 million in legal bills for Florida [Orlando Sentinel]

Massachusetts AG to Exxon: hand over your communications with think tanks

Appalling: Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has demanded papers of “major associations and think tanks involved in climate skepticism” that may be in the files of the ExxonMobil Corp. including groups to which Exxon has never given a dollar [The Hill; Mike Bastasch, Daily Caller] One of her targets, Alex Epstein, author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, responded with extremely rude language entirely unprintable in this space [same] Meanwhile, 19 Democratic members of Congress from California including Reps. Ted Lieu and Zoe Lofgren have written a letter to California Attorney General Kamala Harris urging her to continue full speed ahead with her probe into wrongful climate opinion and to pay no attention to critics’ cries that the First Amendment might somehow be relevant [same] Attorney general Claude Walker of the Virgin Islands is fighting a sanctions motion by the Competitive Enterprise Institute over his overreaching subpoena [WSJ editorial] As for “the claim by activist groups and liberal politicians that they are doing to Exxon Mobil what they did to tobacco,” does that mean they’re planning on cartelizing the oil industry and bolstering its profits while making sure billions in contingent fees get siphoned off to the lawyers among their political donors? [Holman Jenkins, Wall Street Journal] Earlier here, here, etc., etc.

CEI subpoenaed over climate wrongthink

The campaign to attach legal consequences to supposed “climate denial” has now crossed a fateful line:

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) today denounced a subpoena from Attorney General Claude E. Walker of the U.S. Virgin Islands that attempts to unearth a decade of the organization’s materials and work on climate change policy. This is the latest effort in an intimidation campaign to criminalize speech and research on the climate debate, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and former Vice President Al Gore….

The subpoena requests a decade’s worth of communications, emails, statements, drafts, and other documents regarding CEI’s work on climate change and energy policy, including private donor information. It demands that CEI produce these materials from 20 years ago, from 1997-2007, by April 30, 2016.

CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman said the group “will vigorously fight to quash this subpoena. It is an affront to our First Amendment rights of free speech and association.” More coverage of the subpoena at the Washington Times and Daily Caller.

A few observations:

  • If the forces behind this show-us-your-papers subpoena succeed in punishing (or simply inflicting prolonged legal harassment on) groups conducting supposedly wrongful advocacy, there’s every reason to think they will come after other advocacy groups later. Like yours.
  • This article in the Observer details the current push to expand the probe of climate advocacy, which first enlisted New York AG Eric Schneiderman and then California’s Kamala Harris, into a broader coalition of AGs, with Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands just having signed on. More than a dozen others, such as Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, seem to be signaling support but have not formally jumped in. More: Peggy Little, Federalist Society.
  • CEI people, many of them longtime friends of this site, have been active critics of the Schneiderman effort, with Hans Bader, a senior attorney there, highly critical just a week ago.
  • In these working groups of attorneys general, legal efforts are commonly parceled out among the states in a deliberate and strategic way, with particular tasks being assigned to AGs who have comparative advantage in some respect (such as an unusually favorable state law to work with, or superior staff expertise or media access). Why would one of the most politically sensitive tasks of all — opening up a legal attack against CEI, a long-established nonprofit well known in Washington and in libertarian and conservative ideological circles — be assigned to the AG from a tiny and remote jurisdiction? Is it that a subpoena coming from the Virgin Islands is logistically inconvenient to fight in some way, or that local counsel capable of standing up to this AG are scarce on the ground there, or that a politician in the Caribbean is less exposed to political backlash from CEI’s friends and fans than one in a major media center? Or what?
  • I recommend checking out the new Free Speech and Science Project, which intends to fight back against criminalization of advocacy by, among other things, organizing legal defense and seeking to hold officials accountable for misusing the law to attack advocacy.
  • This is happening at a time of multiple, vigorous, sustained legal attacks on what had been accepted freedoms of advocacy and association. As I note in a new piece at Cato, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has just demanded that the Securities and Exchange Commission investigate several large corporations that have criticized her pet plan to impose fiduciary legal duties on retirement advisors, supposedly on the ground that it is a securities law violation for them to be conveying to investors a less alarmed view of the regulations’ effect than they do in making their case to the Labor Department. This is not particularly compelling as securities law, but it’s great as a way to chill speech by publicly held businesses.

[cross-posted at Cato at Liberty and reprinted at FEE; see also new Cato podcast with CEI’s Myron Ebell (“fishing expedition… threatens our future… designed to shut us up.”)]

“A right to speak anonymously?”

Attorneys general in California and New York are demanding that 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organizations disclose their donor lists to the state. At the recent Federalist Society National Lawyers’ Convention, that issue and others were discussed by a panel consisting of Andrew Grossman (BakerHostetler), Stephen Klein (Pillar of Law Institute), Paul S. Ryan (Campaign Legal Center), Hans von Spakovsky (Heritage Foundation), with Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young, Jr. as the moderator. From the summary:

Supporters of mandated disclosure of the source of speech (or of money used to pay for speech) claim it can provide important information to the public and the legal system. But opponents say it violates privacy rights and can also deter the sources from speaking or contributing.

This debate also applies to reporters’ confidential sources. In both situations, disclosure (of who contributed or spent, or who a confidential source was) may provide useful information to voters, prosecutors, civil litigants, judges, or jurors. In both situations, requiring disclosure of the source may deter people from contributing to controversial campaigns or organizations, or from talking to journalists. Politically, people tend to react differently to these reactions – confidentiality of contributors tends to be more supported by conservatives, while confidentiality of journalists’ sources tends to be more supported by liberals. But structurally, are these issues similar? This panel will consider both these questions together.

A playlist of all the videos from the Federalist Society convention is here.