Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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Koch Ally Says He Received Death Threats

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A multimillionaire libertarian businessman testified Wednesday that he received death threats because of his involvement in the Koch brothers' charitable foundation and that his detractors falsely painted him as a climate denier and racist.

Art Pope, of North Carolina, took the stand during morning testimony in U.S. District Judge Manuel Real's courtroom, as Charles and David Koch's Americans for Prosperity Foundation seeks to persuade the court that California Attorney General Kamala Harris' demand that it disclose donor names is unconstitutional.

Pope, the owner of Variety Wholesalers, is credited with bankrolling Tea Party candidates who have swung North Carolina to the right, leading to the implementation of voter suppression and early voting laws.

Pope appeared as a witness for the plaintiff in a bench trial that could end Friday.

Americans for Prosperity Foundation claims that their wealthy donors have been harassed because of their membership. So far, the defense has limited testimony to Koch brother associates with close ties to the nonprofit.

Deputy Attorney General Alexandra Gordon has argued that there is little evidence of actual harm to foundation donors.

"We're nowhere close to that," Gordon told the Ninth Circuit at a hearing last year.

"We have basically some anecdotal evidence of threats, mostly arising from the founders of this foundation, the Koch brothers' very public presence and very public events held by the foundation. That has nothing to do with whether this type of disclosure requirement is actually going to lead to harm."

Pope begged to differ on Wednesday. He said he'd received death threats and had considered quitting the foundation because he was worried about his family's safety and the adverse effect of protests outside his North Carolina stores.

A blogger on the progressive website BlueNC wrote that he was "thinking assassination" in a post about Pope showed to the court.

Pope said he took the threat seriously enough that he called authorities, who declined to charge the blogger after concluding that he did not pose a threat.

But Pope said his family did not rest any easier.

"I was still concerned he would go off the deep end and do something or someone else would do something," Pope testified.

Pope told Quinn Emanuel attorney William Burck that he had served on the foundation until 2012, when he stepped down to serve as head of budget policy for North Carolina, and contributed to the Americans For Prosperity Foundation through the nonprofit John William Pope Foundation.

When Burck asked him about reports calling him a climate denier, Pope said he had been misrepresented.

"Most of the allegations are not true, outright false," Pope testified.

He said on direct examination that the Sierra Club had endorsed him during his political career and that Americans for Prosperity had not taken a position on climate science.

Critics of the Kochs and Pope say the American Prosperity Foundation has funded efforts to fight climate change legislation through front groups.

A study issued by Greenpeace found that the Kochs had funneled tens of millions of dollars to front groups to attack climate science.

Pope testified that he had also been linked to segregation in schools but he told Burck that he is no racist.

"I find segregation abhorrent and objectionable," Pope said.

Americans for Prosperity Foundation is the sister organization and charitable arm of Americans for Prosperity, which has more than 2 million members.

The Koch brothers are closely associated with the wave of big money donations that flooded the political system after the Supreme Court ruling in Citizen's United.

Americans for Prosperity attorney Derek Shaffer has said that Kamala Harris targeted the conservative group because she is running for the U.S. Senate this year, and targeting the foundation's wealthy members plays well to her supporters.

"The attorney general has publicly accused this charity's donors of being part of a dark-money conspiracy," Shaffer said during the first day of trial Tuesday.

Americans for Prosperity Foundation sued Harris in 2014, claiming she violated its First Amendment rights by not allowing it to keep the names secret.

Headed by David Koch, the foundation said in its lawsuit that the Schedule B tax form that it filed with IRS lists hundreds of donor names and addresses.

It claims it has submitted documentation to renew its registration in California but never had to file the Schedule B until 2013, when Harris said it could not register for a tax exemption without submitting the form.

Harris's office says it needs to collect the Schedule Bs and donor information to protect the public against fraud.

So far, Judge Real, a President Lyndon Johnson appointee, appears receptive to the foundation's argument.

Last year the judge granted a preliminary injunction that allows donors to remain anonymous. During the government's opening argument Tuesday, Real blasted the "laziness" of the government's Charitable Trusts Section, asking why the IRS could do not do the investigative division's job just as well.

Harris appealed Real's injunction to the Ninth Circuit last year, and the government secured a more favorable decision when the appeals court ruled that the state can collect the Schedule Bs but may not publicly disclose the information.

The attorney general says she has already proposed confidentiality regulations to protect donors' names, addresses and the amounts of their contributions. But Americans for Prosperity says the Charitable Trusts Section system is far from airtight and has inadvertently allowed disclosure of hundreds of confidential documents.

During morning testimony Wednesday, the foundation's expert witness James McClave said that using key word searches he uncovered more than 1,740 confidential Schedule Bs on the state's registry.

Emanuel Quinn attorney Eric Lyttle asked if any member of the public who visited the online registry could look at those documents.

"Absolutely. They were clickable," McClave replied.

Deputy Attorney General Emma Soichet questioned the effectiveness of McClave's searches during cross-examination.

But McClave said his methods had uncovered more confidential documents than the state's own. He said that to protect the privacy of the donors he had not examined the documents closely, but handed them over to Americans for Prosperity Foundation's lawyers.

Pope's testimony was to resume Thursday morning at 9 a.m.

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