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April 22nd, 2016

Federal Judge Thwarts California AG’s Efforts to Intimidate, Muzzle Speech of Free-Market Nonprofit

In the latest defeat for government officials using the awesome power of the state to suppress political speech with which they disagree, a federal judge yesterday permanently blocked California Attorney General Kamala Harris‘s efforts to “out” the donors who support a free-market-minded nonprofit that has had the First Amendment audacity to weigh in on a variety of policy issues.

In his fairly succinct 12-page decision, Central District of California Judge Manuel Real made permanent his earlier preliminary injunction against AG Harris’s demands that the Virginia-based Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP) relinquish its donors list, technically known as IRS Form 990 Schedule B.

Using less pointed language, Judge Real effectively agreed with a Wall Street Journal editorial that today characterizes Harris as “a hero of the left’s campaign to use donor disclosure as a tool of political intimidation. Since 2013 the California Attorney General has been demanding that nonprofits provide unredacted donor names if they want to solicit donations in the state.”

The AFP, affiliated with industrialist/philanthropist brothers Charles and David Koch, had sued General Harris, claiming it should not be forced to supply her with donor information because the information was not needed to conduct legitimate investigations into its advocacy spending, and because the AG’s office in the past had unlawfully made such information public.

As reported by Politico and other media outlets, there were “nearly 1,800 instances” when lawfully confidential donor information from nonprofits appeared perhaps not-so-inadvertently on the AG’s website.  And the foundation demonstrated during the bench trial in February that such breaches of confidentiality had dangerously led to threats of violence against donors and their family members.

“The pervasive, recurring pattern of uncontained Schedule B disclosures — a pattern that has persisted even during this trial — is irreconcilable with the Attorney General’s assurances and contentions as to the confidentiality of Schedule Bs collected” Judge Real wrote.  “While the Attorney General will have this Court believe that proper procedures are now in place to prevent negligent disclosures of Schedule Bs, the Court is unconvinced.”

Lest anyone conclude that Judge Real must be a right-wing George W. Bush appointee firing a partisan shot across the bow of the politically ambitious, self-proclaimed progressive Harris, the 92-year-old liberal was appointed to the federal bench by Lyndon Johnson in 1966 and says he’s old enough to remember the violence perpetrated against supporters of the NAACP in the Deep South during his formative years.

“[A]lthough the Attorney General correctly points out that” the abuses and threats against donors thus far in this case “are not as violent or pervasive as those encountered in NAACP v. Alabama or other cases from that era, this Court is not prepared to wait until an AFP opponent carries out one of the numerous death threats made against its members,” the judge concluded.

Troublingly, but in keeping with the progressive left’s relentless, shamelessly Orwellian efforts to suppress political speech critical of the Leviathan State, a spokesperson for AG Harris’s office vowed to appeal Judge Real’s decision to the notorious Ninth Circuit where, when it comes to matters of state power in conflict with individual rights, the First Amendment is sometimes treated more as a guideline than an inviolate constitutional right.  So the whole world is watching to see just how far AG Harris and appellate judges may go with her attack on free speech and association.

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