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Oklahoma Fights Humane Society Over Probe

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) - The Humane Society of the United States "cites little to no law" to support its request for an injunction to stop Oklahoma's investigation if its fundraising practices, the state attorney general said.

The Washington, D.C.-based charity sued the state and Attorney General E.

Scott Pruitt in Oklahoma County Court in January after refusing to hand over documents requested under the Oklahoma Solicitation of Charitable Contributions Act. It claimed Pruitt was "continuing a nearly year-long campaign of legal harassment and public vilification of this organization for political gain ."

The Humane Society denied accusations that it conducted fund raising relating to the deadly tornado in Moore, Okla., in 2013. It claimed that Pruitt is targeting it to retaliate for its work against cockfighting, puppy mills and confinement of animals in "factory farms."

In a 22-page response filed Feb. 5, Pruitt said the Humane Society's application for temporary injunction "does not focus on legally relevant issues," including whether his office has reason to believe a person has violated OSCCA.

Pruitt said his office became concerned with the group's fund raising after reviewing a mailer that "created the expectation" that the money would be spent supporting local animal shelters.

He claims an injunction banning him from reporting to the public about an investigation would "impair" his "vital role in regulating charities" inside and outside the state.

"Yet there are serious concerns that HSUS makes only paltry expenditures related to such shelters," the response states. "Those concerns, along with the representations made, led the office to initiate an investigation of HSUS fund-raising practices and whether the expectations created by those practices have been met. Instead of cooperating with that investigation, the organization has decided to challenge a statutorily authorized civil investigative demand."

Pruitt said the Humane Society's declaratory judgment claim of having complied with the information requests will not succeed, because he is authorized by the law "to seek any relevant, nonprivileged material."

Pruitt said the group's claims of proprietary privilege are invalid, that proprietary privilege is not a statutorily created privilege. He also disputed the group's claims of attorney-client privilege, concluding that no such privilege exists when an attorney provides "business advice, even if provided at the client's request."

Pruitt warned against the Humane Society's request that his speech, as a public official, be restrained regarding public information. The law requires "huge swaths" of information must be made available to the public, including gross contributions, certain expense categories and the purpose for which solicited contributions are to be used.

"All HSUS points to in factual support of their claim that the Attorney General has violated (OSCCA) is an instance where the Attorney General stated that it appeared that 'less than 1 percent of HSUS spending goes to local shelters,'" the response states. "But HSUS includes that information on its Form 990 that HSUS itself makes public, and which the act specifically requires be made 'available to the general public.'"

Pruitt said the Humane Society failed to provide evidence regarding its "illusory allegations that its reputation and goodwill" are harmed by the investigation, and that there is no proof it has affected contributions in the state.

"And it is highly doubtful that HSUS could even make such a connection, given that allegations regarding questionable fund-raising practices have clouded HSUS since at least 2012 and stem, not from Oklahoma and its investigation, but from sources outside the state," the response states. "Indeed, such questions were so prevalent that HSUS had prepared a letter to a state representative regarding its fundraising even before the office sent HSUS a request for information."

The Humane Society's attorney, W.A. "Drew" Edmondson with Gable Gotwals in Oklahoma City, disputed Pruitt's denials of a politically motivated investigation. He told Courthouse News that Oklahoma officials have acknowledged they are not responding to contributor complaints.

"The local mailer they cite as their first exhibit talks about local shelters in only two lines," Edmondson said Friday. "The rest of the letter talks about animal cruelty, puppy mills, baby seals and farm animals, to name a few. HSUS contributors are aware of and very supportive of protecting all animals."

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