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Koch Group Gets to Keep Donors Secret in California Lawsuit

Tuesday, 17 February 2015 04:11 PM

A Koch brothers advocacy group can keep its donor list secret for now, with a federal judge ruling that revealing the identities would chill free speech.

Americans for Prosperity Foundation, part of the Koch brothers network that aims to raise almost $1 billion in the run up to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, persuaded the judge on Tuesday to block California Attorney General Kamala Harris’s demand for the names and addresses of its donors while the group challenges the state’s disclosure requirements.

The foundation, co-founded by billionaires Charles and David Koch, promotes limited government and free markets and conservative causes. The nonprofit claims its contributors may be at risk of being targeted by its opponents, and would-be donors could be scared off, if their identities became known.

"Grotesque threats have been leveled against known associates of the foundation, ranging from threats to kill or maim, to threats to firebomb buildings," the organization said in its request to block California from seeking the information while it fights the state in court.

The political network overseen by the Kochs set a fundraising goal for the presidential election of $889 million on Jan. 26 at a Koch-organized summit of 450 wealthy donors and small-government activists in Palm Springs, California. Various parts of the network run television ads, develop voter data files and operate phone banks.

The brothers are ranked on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index as the world’s fifth- and sixth-richest people with a combined net worth of $100 billion.

U.S. District Judge Manuel Real, in granting the group’s request to prevent Harris from seeking the information until the legality of the request has been resolved, cited a separate case in which the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco halted the attorney general from enforcing the demand on the Center for Competitive Politics while that case was before that court.

"We’re very appreciative of the court’s ruling," Harold Barza, a lawyer for the foundation, said after the hearing. Alexandra Robert Gordon, a lawyer for the attorney general’s office, declined to comment. Kristin Ford, a spokeswoman for Harris, had no immediate comment on the ruling.

Harris, a Democrat who won re-election in November, is running in 2016 for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Boxer.

In 2013, Harris helped secure a $1 million settlement with two Arizona-based political groups that California election regulators said had ties to the Koch brothers. The agreement resolved claims the groups violated California campaign finance laws by concealing the origin of $15 million in donations to conservative causes in the 2012 election.

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation sued Harris in December, accusing her of violating free-speech rights that protect anonymous donations. The attorney general, "out of the blue," started asking in 2013 that the group provide the federal tax form identifying its donors, according to the nonprofit.

The attorney general’s office said the confidential donor information is used to investigate potential fraudulent conduct, such as donors using a charity to fund their business or pass money to family members, according to a Jan. 21 filing in federal court in Los Angeles.

California keeps the donor information confidential and uses it only for law enforcement purposes, according to the attorney general’s court filings. Nonprofits are required to submit the unredacted donor information they provide to the Internal Revenue Service to keep their tax-exempt status in California, according to Harris.

The case is Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Harris, 14-cv-09448, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

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A Koch brothers advocacy group can keep its donor list secret for now, with a federal judge ruling that revealing the identities would chill free speech.Americans for Prosperity Foundation, part of the Koch...
Koch, donors, secret, court
Tuesday, 17 February 2015 04:11 PM
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