- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2016

California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ record on using her office to punish ideological foes is coming under fire after her investigations on abortion and climate change, but it’s unlikely that either probe will come back to haunt her at the ballot box.

Under California’s top-two primary system implemented in 2012, polls show Ms. Harris will probably face another Democrat, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, in the November election to succeed retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer, also a Democrat.

That leaves little incentive for Ms. Harris to heed the outcry from the right surrounding her April 5 raid on the Orange County home of David Daleiden, an investigator with the pro-life Center for Medical Progress, which has sparked calls for her to resign and a #KorruptKamala social media campaign.

This isn’t the first time Ms. Harris has faced charges of political bias. She joined other Democratic attorneys general last month who vowed to use their offices to target climate change “fraud,” shortly after she reportedly launched an investigation into Exxon Mobil Corp.

Her efforts to force nonprofit organizations to turn over to the state their lists of major donors prompted lawsuits in 2014 from right-of-center groups the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the Center for Competitive Politics and the Thomas More Law Center.

Jack Pitney, political science professor at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California, said the Harris investigations “raise legitimate questions about government power and free speech.”

But don’t expect the issue to come up during the Senate campaign. If the June 7 primary produces the expected Democrat-on-Democrat contest, the candidates will be compelled to run to the left instead of the center as they battle for votes in liberal California.

“Sanchez is vocally pro-choice on abortion, and it is hard to see her using this issue,” said Mr. Pitney. “The Exxon Mobil probe is even less likely to become a campaign issue, since oil companies are highly unpopular.”

Still, pro-life groups are determined to make the corruption issue uncomfortable for Ms. Harris. Led by Students for Life of America, pro-life activists held a rally outside her office in Sacramento on Wednesday to demand her resignation.

Demonstrators waved signs with messages including “Stop the Korruption” and “#KorruptKamala targets pro-lifers, are you next?”

“We are here to show the attorney general we are the pro-life generation, and we will not be cowed into silence or bullied into submission by corrupt politicians,” Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins said at the rally.

Harris campaign spokesman Nathan Click referred questions on the matter to California Justice Department spokesman David Beltran, who declined to comment on ongoing investigations.

Pro-life groups accused Ms. Harris of overkill for sending 11 agents to search Mr. Daleiden’s one-bedroom apartment, where they seized a laptop and hard drives related to his hidden-camera investigation into Planned Parenthood’s role in fetal tissue procurement for medical research.

Mr. Daleiden’s backers point to her long-standing support of Planned Parenthood. Ms. Harris has a petition on her campaign website calling on supporters to “join Kamala in defending Planned Parenthood.”

The pro-life group Operation Rescue posted a chart last week showing that Ms. Harris has received $81,000 from Planned Parenthood-affiliated PACs and other pro-choice campaign committees since 2010. Of that total, about $31,000 has been contributed for her Senate run this year.

Coming to Ms. Harris’ defense are progressive groups such as the Courage Campaign, which said in a statement Wednesday that Ms. Harris “has a sterling record as a fair, impartial and effective Attorney General.”

Ms. Harris has enjoyed a substantial lead in the Senate race, although Ms. Sanchez is gaining ground. A SurveyUSA poll released this month showed Ms. Harris with 26 percent, followed by Ms. Sanchez with 22 percent and former California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro with 8 percent.

If Ms. Harris is nervous about corruption charges dogging her during the campaign, however, she isn’t showing it.

“Therein lies a problem with the top-two system,” said Mr. Pitney. “With the kind of partisan election system in place nearly everywhere else, such issues would get a real airing. Either a pro-life Republican would discuss the abortion angle, or a Libertarian would raise concerns about the chilling of free expression.”

Mr. Del Beccaro has moved to draw attention to the issue by calling on Ms. Harris to remove herself from the Daleiden investigation. As the state’s “top cop,” he said, the attorney general “isn’t allowed to take sides in an investigation or cheerlead for a victim.”

“Beyond that, the use of excessive legal force searching Daleiden’s home from a person who refused to apply the death penalty as required by law demonstrates that Harris is an activist prosecutor/attorney general — not a fair-minded civil servant,” Mr. Del Beccaro said in a statement.

Even Project Veritas’ James O’Keefe, who has faced his share of legal drama over his hidden-camera videos, was taken aback by the raid. Any of the items seized by the agents could have been obtained far more easily with subpoenas, said ProjectVeritas spokesman Stephen Gordon.

“Search and seizure seems extreme in this case,” said Mr. Gordon. “[Mr. Daleiden] is obviously not a flight risk. He’s obviously not trying to destroy the evidence. Heck, he’s trying to put the evidence out there.”

Targeting nonprofits

Complaints that Ms. Harris had been pushing a political agenda erupted in 2013 when she instructed nonprofits to turn over their IRS form 990 Schedule B lists, which give the names and addresses of donors who contribute $5,000 or more per year.

Before that, 501(c)3 organizations had been able to solicit donations from California residents without doing so, and it’s unclear what led to the policy change.

“There wasn’t any new regulation promulgated, there wasn’t any law passed. This was just some policy, and it’s not clear who came up with the policy or why,” said David Keating, president of the Center for Competitive Politics, a free-speech defense group.

Her office has said that the nonprofit groups were previously out of compliance with California law and that the forms were needed for oversight purposes. It’s rare for states agencies to demand Schedule B forms — only two other states, Hawaii and New York, do so — and Ms. Harris’ office upped the ante by threatening to prosecute boards of directors members individually who failed to comply.

While the policy applies to all 501(c)3 organizations, critics argue that conservatives have more to lose. The progressive movement has a history of attempting to expose, boycott and publicly shame donors to right-of-center causes in an effort to chill fundraising, particularly in California.

Ms. Harris has fed the accusations of bias with her criticism of Charles and David Koch, the libertarian billionaires who help fund the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. She accused them of a “brazen attempt to launder money” during her investigation into 2012 campaign finance violations, although the Kochs were never charged.

A March 14 brief filed by Americans for Prosperity argued that Ms. Harris has displayed “animus” with her office’s “inappropriate and harassing questions of the Foundation’s witnesses during deposition combined with threatening, unrelenting attempts to obtain intrusive discovery into the Foundation’s individual donors.”

Concerns about donors’ names being inadvertently disclosed are more than theoretical. Already there have been security breaches in which hundreds of Schedule B forms have been made publicly accessible on the state’s website, according to the brief.

“The California attorney general’s office is supremely incompetent at keeping the data confidential,” Mr. Keating said. “I don’t know that there’s any evidence to suggest they are purposely trying to make it available for public viewing. But the fact is, they have put this data on their website and they haven’t taken appropriate security measures so that people can’t see it.”

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Americans for Prosperity in December, overturning a lower-court injunction on the state’s order in part because the group had not proved that its donors faced a “reasonable probability of harassment.” Americans for Prosperity has appealed the decision.

“Whatever the outcome of the case,” says CalWatchdog.com, “Harris stood to gain politically from putting the heat on Americans for Prosperity and the Kochs, who are reviled by Democrats as big-money Republican puppet masters.”

So far, no left-of-center group has filed a lawsuit challenging the attorney general’s policy, even though court papers show that in July 2012, the office accidentally made publicly available the names and addresses of hundreds of major Planned Parenthood donors.

“I’m sure a number of them [liberal nonprofits] are rooting for us to win,” Mr. Keating said. “It would be great if some of them would file an amicus brief or something, but none of them have done it. I mean, we’ve certainly asked.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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