Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton made the following statement on The Supreme Court’s decision last week restricting California’s effort to obtain confidential IRS information on donors from non-profit groups (Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta (No. 19-251)):
Today’s Supreme Court decision brushes back the latest attempt by leftist politicians, this time in California, to abuse IRS information to collect information on and intimidate donors to charitable organizations. The Supreme Court agreed with Judicial Watch and other non-profits from both the left and right that California’s donor disclosure mandate chills the First Amendment activities of groups and their donors.
Confidential IRS taxpayer information has been notoriously abused for political purposes over the years. The Obama administration was caught misusing donor information by Judicial Watch and just earlier this month a leftist news organization somehow gained access to the confidential IRS information of untold thousands of American taxpayers. This Supreme Court victory for the First Amendment could not come at a better time.
Judicial Watch joined with Allied Educational Foundation (AEF) to file an amici curiae (friends of the court) brief in this case, which originated when Americans for Prosperity challenged the State of California’s rule requiring non-profits, when renewing their registration with the state annually, to include the tax Form 990 Schedule B, which discloses certain major donors. This rule was initiated by the state’s attorney general’s office in California and was vigorously enforced for the first time by then-California State Attorney General Kamala Harris.
The Judicial Watch/AEF brief asked the high court to reverse the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which upheld the California law, and to affirm the lower court’s ruling, which held that the law violates the First Amendment. The brief argued that the Ninth Circuit’s decision to uphold California’s donor disclosure requirement could have adverse effects for all issue-oriented, educational nonprofit organizations:
The decision is not only wrong … it would also chill the free exercise of millions of Californians’ protected First Amendment rights.… It clearly affects individuals’ willingness to donate. Indeed, recent widely publicized reports show that threats, harassment, or reprisals have occurred from either government officials or private parties.
Judicial Watch also argued that Supreme Court precedent (NAACP v. Alabama (1958)) highlights how the “right of association” is “almost as inalienable in its nature as the right of personal liberty. No legislator can attack it without impairing the foundations of society.”
Regarding the “chilling effect” the California law would impose on free speech and free association, Judicial Watch and AEF point out the “notorious” IRS scandal under the Obama administration, in which the agency targeted conservative organizations’ applications for tax-exempt status:
What followed was an extremely troubling episode in which public officials used government resources to silence [political opponents].… The U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (“TIGTA”) audited the unit responsible for processing applications by organizations seeking tax-exempt status … [and found] that there had been a deliberate, systematic targeting of conservative groups.
These instances of targeting and harassing conservative donors and non-profits are nationally famous. Donors are certainly aware of these events …
Specifically, the brief noted “in Judicial Watch’s experience, any law or regulation that requires additional disclosure of donor data—especially to a state government that has publicly demonstrated animosity to conservative viewpoints—has the real potential to chill speech …”
The Allied Educational Foundation is a charitable and educational foundation dedicated to improving the quality of life through education. In furtherance of that goal, the Foundation has engaged in a number of projects, which include, but are not limited to, educational and health conferences domestically and abroad. AEF has partnered frequently with Judicial Watch to fight government and judicial corruption and to promote a return to ethics and morality in the nation’s public life.