California AG Kamala Harris wants your private information from the IRS

California Attorney General Kamala Harris is considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, and in all likelihood will win the Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Boxer this November. Articular, telegenic, and complimented by no less than Barack Obama for her beauty, she is ready to take her place on the bench of future presidential hopefuls.

Unfortunately, she is displaying the worst instincts of a government bully. Ignoring post-Watergate reforms to the Internal Revenue Code designed to protect confidential federal tax return information, Kamala Harris is defending against three lawsuits filed by conservative organizations to protect the privacy of their donors.

The lawsuits, including one brought by Americans for Prosperity Foundation, allege that Ms. Harris has violated the First Amendment by requiring charities that wish to ask Californians for contributions first disclose to her their donors listed on their confidential federal tax return Schedule B. Her coercive demands are accompanied by threats of fines and denial of permits to those who do not accede.

Ms. Harris’ demands, AFPF alleges in its lawsuit, violate 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 stop the civil rights movement in his state by acquiring the names of NAACP’s members and financial supporters.

Charity donor information on Schedule B is protected under federal law as confidential. Charities and their donors worry that imperious, uber-liberal Ms. Harris will leak this confidential information to their ideological opponents and her allies. Among its various acts of lawlessness and lawbreaking, Lois Lerner’s IRS was caught leaking this type of confidential donor information of the National Organization for Marriage to its opponents.

The tax code provides strict controls and limitations on when and how state officials such as Ms. Harris and her staff of prosecutors, investigators and bureaucrats may acquire and review confidential federal tax return information. A statutory regime beginning with tax code section 6104 helps prevent the scenario from NAACP v. Alabama. State attorneys general must request this donor information from the IRS on a case-by-case basis, and the IRS may deny those requests. The tax code also creates a regime of control and monitoring over state attorneys general if ever they are granted access to those names to use for legitimate law enforcement purposes, complete with civil and even felony penalties for state officials who violate the law.

Suspicions that some state charity regulators may be every bit as untrustworthy and malicious as Lois Lerner were justified in a trial before U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real.  As reported at Courthouse News Service, one of Ms. Harris’s senior prosecutors may have been caught lying on the stand about whether the fact that AFPF sued to protect its rights made her suspicious of the organization:

During heated testimony on Friday morning, [AFPF] attorney Derek Shaffer pressed Senior Assistant Attorney General Tania Ibanez on whether she was suspicious of the foundation because of the lawsuit.

After Ibanez testified that she had not yet made a determination, Shaffer then played a Jan. 6, 2016 video deposition to the court in which he asked the prosecutor if the group's actions made her suspicious.

"You're suing us and you don't want to give us your Schedule B. So, that puts my suspicions on alert," Ibanez said in the video, adding later: "The litigation caused me to have some concerns."

This sends the message: People who fight to protect their rights against government lawbreaking are suspect. Fear of government retribution is a time-tested way to bully people so they keep their complaints to themselves.

Judge Real expressed his own suspicions of what Ms. Harris and her deputies are trying to do, describing their efforts to bypass federal law protections of donor privacy as “laziness.”

Comments filed in response to a proposed regulation issued by Ms. Harris indicate this “laziness” seems more like purposeful evasion of the law. A senior lawyer in her office published an article and testified in a deposition about the “severe” restrictions on acquiring that confidential information under federal law. She and her colleagues at the National Association of State Charity Officials even collaborated with IRS officials such as Lois Lerner to seek legislation to loosen the rules, but failed.

The comments state that Ms. Harris’ “demands for Schedule B donor names and addresses are a bold, brash, and startling statement that the Attorney General believes she is not bound by or beholden to [Internal Revenue Code section] 6104(c).”

While media attention to the lawsuits has focused on the privacy rights of donors to charities, there are larger implications such as whether states may condition granting the issuance of any permits only to those who first provide confidential federal tax return information. The post-Watergate reforms to the tax code, however, recognize that some state officials can be every bit as dangerous as lawless zealots at the IRS such as Lois Lerner.

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