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Humane Society Says AG Is on a Witch Hunt

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) - Oklahoma's attorney general is conducting a "politically motivated fishing expedition" against The Humane Society of the United States by investigating its fund raising, the Humane Society claims in court.

The Washington, D.C.-based charity sued Oklahoma and its Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt in Oklahoma County court Wednesday, after refusing to hand over requested documents.

The 10-page complaint claims that Pruitt is "continuing a nearly year-long campaign of legal harassment and public vilification of this organization for political gain."

The state demanded information from the Humane Society on Feb. 20, 2014, under the Oklahoma Solicitation of Charitable Contributions Act.

"Attorney General Pruitt's stated concern in the Request for Information allegedly related to HSUS's advertisements, particularly after the May 20, 2013 tornado in central Oklahoma," according to the complaint.

The tornado made headlines when it touched down in Moore, Okla., killing 24 people.

The Humane Society denies that it conducted fund raising relating to the tornado.

It claims that Pruitt publicly called into question its solicitation practices "even prior to his office receiving and reviewing" its response to the request for information.

The Humane Society says it turned over two years of "extensive information" about its solicitation, advertising and direct mailings in the state, but Pruitt is asking for "far more information" about its general governance and operations.

"Pruitt's interrogatories seek information completely unrelated to [his] 'concern' alleged in his Request for Information," the complaint states. "The Investigative Demand seeks information such as: employee compensation; association of officers and board members, employee handbooks, identification of financial institutions holding HSUS assets and production of financial statements, and detailed accounting of funds and grants. The Investigative Demand similarly includes burdensome requests for irrelevant documents such as: organization documents, meeting minutes, board notices, HSUS expenses, balance sheets, income statements, and audits. These document requests seek information through the present date, over a year after Attorney General Pruitt's alleged 'concern' occurred, on or around May 20, 2013."

Pruitt said Wednesday that the Humane Society has been granted "the courtesy of several time extensions" in turning over the documents. He said his office "will not blink" in the face of an "unwarranted" lawsuit."

"The concern is that the HSUS projects heart-wrenching imagery of puppies and kittens in solicitations in order to extract donations from unsuspecting Oklahomans who believe their donations are going to help local animal shelters, but instead, their hard-earned money may go to high-powered lobbying and special interest campaigns that are determined to shape state and federal legislation that would harm farmers, ranchers and other Oklahomans," Pruitt said in a statement Wednesday.

"The Attorney General's Office has the statutory authority to monitor and regulate charities operating in Oklahoma and has requested records from the HSUS through a CID. After multiple attempts by the Attorney General's office to acquire a good faith response, including extra time to comply with the CID, the group has responded with a lawsuit."

The Humane Society claims Pruitt is targeting the group in retaliation for its work against cockfighting, puppy mills and confinement of animals in "factory farms."

"Religious leaders, pro-life groups, and others with a values-based view of the world should be outraged by the misuse of the Attorney General's office to mount a political attack on a charitable organization because of that's group's mission and beliefs," said Cynthia Armstrong, HSUS Oklahoma state director. "It's not the role of the government to decide whose voice should be heard."

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society, said Pruitt's "fishing expedition" is "unprecedented in our history."

"No state attorney general has ever behaved in this manner," Pacelle said Wednesday. "Oklahomans should not tolerate this heavy hand of government trying to suppress the work of charitable organizations based on pure politics."

The Human Society seeks injunctive and declaratory relief. It is represented by W.A. "Drew" Edmondson with Gable Gotwals in Oklahoma City.

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