Law Center Fights Calif. AG Over Donor Lists

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – A prominent Christian conservative law center claims California Attorney General Kamala Harris is threatening sanctions for withholding the constitutionally protected names of its contributors, according to a complaint filed in Federal Court.
     The Thomas More Law Center claims Harris suddenly demanded disclosure of its private donor list despite the fact the nonprofit submitted its 2015 taxes in California the same way it has for the last 13 years. The center says revealing the names would open its donors up to public and media scrutiny the nonprofit often receives for its stance on controversial issues, and could prohibit future donations.
     “The rights to free speech, association, petition, free exercise of religion and privacy, guaranteed by the United States and California Constitutions, are threatened, ironically, by the chief law enforcement officer of the state of California,” the complaint says.
     While the law center is recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) and is required to submit donor lists to the IRS, it says California’s tax laws do not require that information and it hasn’t been asked to by the state in the past.
     Harris began requesting the private information beginning in 2012 but hasn’t given reasons for the demand or stated what legal authority she was basing her request on, the center says.
     According to its website, Thomas More Law Center “defends and promotes America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and moral values,” and has established itself as one of the nation’s “leading Christian public interest law firms.”
     According to the center’s complaint, Harris sent Thomas More a 30-day notice threatening to suspend and revoke its registered status and impose financial penalties on its directors if it doesn’t provide the names and addresses of its contributors. Harris has declined to respond to Thomas More’s letters for clarification and prior to 2015 she had never threatened sanctions.
     The law center has over 700 pro bono attorneys across all 50 states, and Sen. Rick Santorum and former Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn have sat on the advisory board.
     Harris is not the first public official to be sued by Thomas More. The center sued President Barack Obama over the Affordable Care Act in 2010, with an appeal pending in the U.S. Supreme Court.
     Thomas More lists overturning Roe v. Wade and countering same-sex marriage laws as two of its key values. The center was founded by Domino’s Pizza founder and former Detroit Tigers owner Tom Monaghan.
     Harris did not return a request for comment by press time.
     A representative for Thomas More declined to comment further on the suit.
     The center seeks a preliminary injunction of Harris’ demands and a declaration that Harris is prohibited from obtaining its donor lists. It is represented by Louis Castoria and Sheila Pham of Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck LLP out of San Francisco.
     In late 2014, a right-wing political think tank founded by the Koch brothers sued Harris for demanding its donor rolls and threatening sanctions. A federal judge ruled that Harris’ demands would have “a chilling effect on free speech” and granted an injunction this past February.

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