Judge grants permanent injunction in case against attorney general

By Michelle de Leon | Dec 29, 2016

A Harrisburg district court will consider whether a City of Harrisburg buffer zone law violates free speech.   Photo by Evlakhov Valeriy, Shutterstock

SAN FRANCISCO – A federal judge approved the permanent injunction request of the Thomas Moore Law Center against California Attorney General Kamala Harris, putting an end to the official’s campaign to obtain the donor list of the organization.

District Judge Manuel Real of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California enjoined the attorney general from ordering the nonprofit legal-advocacy organization to provide her with the list of donors. Prior to this ruling, Harris sought to make this requirement a precondition before the TMLC can solicit donations from the state. A team led by Kaufman Dolowich and Voluck San Francisco partner Louie Castoria represented the organization. The group also included associate attorney Marion Cruz and paralegal James Jordan.

The point of contention between TMLC and the attorney general stemmed from the requirement to furnish the official with the Schedule B of IRS Form 990. This document reveals the details on the donors who have contributed approximately $5,000 or more to the organization within a year. This condition raised alarms as the document is not considered as part of the public records. However, Harris insisted that the data would only be used for confidential investigations and will not be shown to the public.

One of the most pressing concerns of the TMLC in sharing the donor list is the safety of the individuals. The disclosure of their identities could expose them to danger, especially given the nature of the organization. TMLC is a nonprofit group that promotes and advocates the traditional Christian religious values and principles.

“Free speech can be exercised without making a sound or writing a word,” Castoria said of the organization’s insistence to protect the privacy of their donors.

“Private donors who provide financial support for advocacy organizations that share their views are exercising their First Amendment rights,” he said. “Such donors’ identities should not be subject to mandatory disclosure to state agencies when doing so will likely expose them to harassment, boycott, or bodily harm.”

In their complaint, the organization explained that their advocacies could threaten their safety, as these issues tend to be sensitive topics among other members of the society. Among the main issues of the group are "Restoring Family Values," "Defending National Security," "Defending the Sanctity of Human Life" and "Confronting the Threat of Radical Islam."

The organization is classified as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Under California laws, the group must file a copy of its IRS Form 990 with the State Registry of Charitable Trusts. The documents include the Schedule B. Hence, the registry has the list of donors of the TMLC which include information such as the names and addresses of the individuals who contributed more than $5,000 within the tax year. The same documents are provided to the attorney general with the exception of Schedule B.

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