March 04, 2021
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today it joined with Allied Educational Foundation (AEF) to file an amici curiae (friends of the court) brief in the U.S. Supreme Court that supports overturning a California law that compels the disclosure of tax-exempt organizations’ donors. The brief argues that mandatory disclosure of donors leads to intimidation, harassment and threats or reprisals from government officials and private parties that could chill the exercise of First Amendment rights.
The Judicial Watch/AEF brief was filed in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Xavier Becerra, in his official capacity as Attorney General of California (No. 19-251, 19-255), in which Americans for Prosperity asks 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 argues 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 argues 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] inappropriate criteria were used to identify tax-exempt applications for review.… [T]here 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 notes “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 …”
“Cancel culture, with the help of California’s government, wants to target and expose donors of Judicial Watch and other conservative groups, in order to crush dissent,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The Supreme Court should shut down California’s attack on donor privacy – as it is an attack on the First Amendment itself.”
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.