- - Monday, July 19, 2021

Last month, the Supreme Court smacked down then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ attempt to force charitable nonprofits to turn over the names of their top donors, calling the power-grab “facially unconstitutional.” 

Gun Owners of America (GOA) and Gun Owners Foundation (GOA) proudly joined those calling for the Court to protect our donors, and this time the Court has largely delivered. 

This issue goes back decades and has long united conservative and liberal activists. In 1958, in NAACP v. Alabama, the Supreme Court declared that the state’s attempt to strong-arm the NAACP to turn over its membership lists threatened the freedom of association. The current Court cited that case in turning aside Ms. Harris’ attempts to access charitable groups’ donors. 

Moreover, despite the Democrats’ bluster against the decision, the plaintiffs were supported even by leftist groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.  And that is, even though American leftists now have most of the media, academia, and the federal government already on their side, so disclosure isn’t as much of an issue for them. 

By contrast, California has already proven its bloodlust for conservative donors. In 2008, activists publicly posted private information on donors to California’s Proposition 8 (“Prop 8”), a successful ballot initiative defending traditional marriage.  Those donors then suffered “threats, protests, and vandalism.”  Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, a tech icon who invented the programming language Javascript and co-founded Mozilla, resigned after the Obama-era IRS leaked his Prop 8 contribution. 

One of the plaintiffs noted that once donor data is in the open, “people take advantage of that and start doxing or trying to destroy people’s livelihood by getting them fired from their job.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. went further, pointing out that, “The need for up-front collection is particularly dubious given that California — one of only three states to impose such a requirement — did not rigorously enforce the disclosure obligation until 2010.” 

In the wake of the decision, one wag asked sardonically what “power-hungry lunatic” attorney general started demanding these donor names?

Ms. Harris won the election in 2010, took power in January 2011, and made the donor-disclosure drive a “hallmark” of her time in office. 

According to one of the plaintiffs, “They routinely asked for that information, and we routinely refused to give it to them, and it was only in 2012 that they started to ask it in more insistent tones. So at some point, they decided they wanted to make us an example.”

In fact, her office effectively threatened to cancel the nonprofits, that is, literally canceling their registrations in the state, preventing them from operating or soliciting money in California if they did not turn over their top donors’ identities.  The nonprofits decided to sue and have at last prevailed. 

Critics objected not only to Ms. Harris’ attempt to gain access to confidential donor information, leading to legal harassment from the Attorney General herself but to the possibility that the information might leak.  

Lo and behold, Ms. Harris’ staff “inadvertently” posted about 1,800 of the collected ultra-confidential donor lists, so-called IRS Form 990 Schedule Bs, to her attorney general website, prompting a U.S. District Court Judge to opine that “the amount of careless mistakes made by the Attorney General’s Registry is shocking” in an April 2016 ruling. 

Regardless, Chief Justice Roberts, in his majority opinion, noted that the “record amply supports the District Court’s finding that there was not a ‘single, concrete instance in which pre-investigation collection of Schedule B did anything to advance the Attorney General’s investigative, regulatory or enforcement efforts.’”

Though the recent case bears the name of the current California Attorney General Rob Bonta, make no mistake: This ruling is a repudiation of now-Vice President Harris.

As attorney general, Ms. Harris tried to pry conservative groups’ confidential donors’ names out of them, and her office, accidentally or deliberately, released that information.  GOA joined those standing up to her and her ilk, and the Court has largely sided with us. 

Let that be a lesson for us: We keep a pretty close eye on Ms. Harris as vice president. She and her allies aren’t done trying to silence Americans – and we’re not done fighting to speak freely. 

•.John Velleco is the executive vice president of Gun Owners of America, a national grassroots lobbying organization with more than 2 million members and supporters.

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