Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Koch Bros. Group Sues California AG to Keep Donors’ Names Secret

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Americans for Prosperity, a right-wing political think tank founded by the Koch brothers, slapped California Attorney General Kamala Harris with a federal lawsuit on Tuesday, challenging her push to compel disclosure of the names and addresses of the group's donors.

The Virginia-based group - which the Washington Post has wryly called "the third-largest political party in the United States" - claims that although the First Amendment and federal law gives political donors the right to remain anonymous, Harris "for reasons known only to her is nonetheless trying to compel disclosure of the confidential Schedule B by nonprofits around the state."

Acknowledging that its views "are not universally popular," Americans for Prosperity says it needs to shield its donors to "ensure their safety."

"Grotesque threats have been leveled against known associates of the foundation, ranging from threats to kill or maim to threats to firebomb buildings," the group says in its complaint. "More mundane threats abound too, including boycotts, firings and public shaming, all of which are now demonstrated components of the playbook of the foundation's more extreme opponents.

"Disclosure of the foundation's donors thus poses a grave risk to these individuals' ability to continue expressing themselves robustly and freely. It is to alleviate such chilling that the First Amendment and federal statutes protect against the compelled disclosure of an advocacy organization's donors," the complaint continues.

The compelled-disclosure requirement came about in 2013, when Harris informed the group that its nonprofit registration from 2011 was incomplete because its paperwork did not include the names and addresses of its donors.

"No change in California law precipitated this letter: no new statute or regulation came into effect; no new policy of collecting donor data was announced; no sudden justification for this requirement was invoked," the group's complaint states.

The issue came to a head in October when Harris ordered the group to disclose donor information for 2011 and 2012 within 30 days. Failure to do so could mean revocation of the group's nonprofit status, suspension of its state registration and fines for its board of directors individually, according to the complaint.

"Faced with these imminent sanctions and with the irreparable loss of First Amendment freedoms, the foundation is suing both to obtain a declaration that the Attorney General's demand is unlawful on its face and as applied to the Foundation, and to enjoin the Attorney General from enforcing her demand," the group says in its complaint.

The group attributes its concern with donor confidentiality to a litany of harassment, from hackers to President Obama. It recounts an email from a user called "deadkochs," who claims to have declined a $500,000 offer to kill the Koch brothers because he'd "do it for absolutely nothing just to rub it in there [sic] faces that money can't buy you happiness," according to the complaint.

"Faced with such bullying, current and potential donors are understandably afraid that having their identities disclosed will put them and their families at risk," the complaint states. "Dozens of potential donors, a number of whom live in California, have reluctantly refused to contribute to the foundation because they are too fearful of the reprisal they will face if their contribution becomes public knowledge, and current donors have indicated that they will cease their contributions if their names and addresses are revealed to the state of California."

The group claims that another nonprofit, the Center for Competitive Politics, has entered Harris' crosshairs for the same reason. That group sued Harris in Federal Court in March, then appealed the court's denial of a preliminary injunction to the 9th Circuit.

Americans for Prosperity seeks an order barring Harris from demanding its donor information, and a declaration that her demands violate the First and 14th Amendments and the Supremacy Clause.It is represented by Harold Barza with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.