Court enjoins California AG Kamala Harris on First Amendment grounds

Stopping acts statutorily related to some of Lois Lerner’s abuse of First Amendment rights of nonprofit organizations, a federal judge has enjoined California attorney general and Democrat candidate for U.S. Senate Kamala Harris from obtaining donor records of 501(c)(4) organizations.

Without express state statutory authority, and allegedly in violation of federal law protecting the confidentiality of donors listed in Schedule B, Ms. Harris demanded that organizations that register with her office under California’s charitable solicitation law disclose their largest donors.  She threatened fines against those who did not comply with her lawless, ultra vires demands.

Most states have charitable solicitation statutes requiring nonprofit organizations to pay fees and obtain a license before asking the public for contributions.  These state statutes typically require nonprofits to file their tax return, IRS Form 990, as part of their annual licensing application, but allow Schedule B listing top donors to be redacted.

The Supreme Court has acknowledged that states may require registration of nonprofits before solicitation of contributions so long as their laws do not violate the First Amendment.  The February 17 injunction against Harris noted that she threatened to suspend the solicitation license of plaintiff Americans for Prosperity unless it disclosed its largest donors.  The district court found that she could not assure that donor records would be kept confidential under her policies, which are not based in any concrete state law, and that would have a chilling effect on First Amendment rights.

AFP presented evidence that its donors, which include the Koch brothers, have received threats.  The court found that AFP raised “serious questions going to the merits” of the larger case, which was sufficient for the injunction.

Federal law requires that donor information on IRS Form 990 Schedule B be kept confidential, with both civil and criminal penalties for disclosure by government officials.  Last year the IRS was fined $50,000 for unlawfully leaking the names of donors to the National Organization for Marriage.

Judicial Watch uncovered e-mails linking Lois Lerner to the IRS’s inappropriately collecting donor names of conservative organizations filing for tax-exempt status.  E-mails also indicate that Ms. Lerner unlawfully disclosed confidential tax information of Tea Party applicants to the Federal Election Commission.  She was eventually referred for criminal prosecution by the House Ways and Means Committee for, among other things, “exposing, and [potentially disclosing], confidential taxpayer information, in apparent violation of Internal Revenue Code section 6103 by using her personal email to conduct official business.”

Ms. Harris, who has been repeatedly described as the “female Barack Obama,” is running to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Boxer.  She has taken the side of supporting warrantless searches of cell phones, but a unanimous Supreme Court ruled in Riley v. California that the government needs a warrant.