California embarrassed conservative political donors, including the Koch brothers, when it tracked down mysterious last-minute, million-dollar donors in the November 2012 election, fined them and exposed the network of secretive organizations that exceeded even the generous latitude accorded moneyed interests by lawmakers and the courts.
Last week, there was a bit of pushback.
A conservative, nonprofit group backed by billionaires David and Charles Koch sued California Attorney General Kamala Harris in U.S. District Court, Central District of California for ordering them to reveal the names of their donors. The Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP), chaired by David Koch, claimed the information was a violation of its First Amendment right to free speech.
This is the first year Harris required the group to provide the information, although the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires it for tax purposes. AG Communications Director David Beltran told the Los Angeles Times they should have been sending the group notices since 2001 but the enforcement office charged with that responsibility has been badly underfunded.
“This is simply the enforcement of a law that all charities are required to comply with and has long been on the books,” he said.
The AG threatens to revoke the foundation’s nonprofit status, suspend its registration and fine each member on its board directors if the required annual application to operate in California doesn’t have the donors.
AFP argued in its complaint that complying with the order would expose its donors and their families to harassment and danger, and scare off potential participants. The state responded that the information would be kept confidential and not be made public.
The Arlington, Virginia-based foundation raises and spends more than $120 million a year in support of political candidates and issues. AFP was the prime mover behind creation of the Tea Party, belying its image as an organic, uninfluenced grassroots movement.
The Center for Competitive Politics filed a similar lawsuit against the attorney general in March. The center lost in the early rounds and the case is now before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.