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After the Supreme Court issued a 6-3 ruling Thursday invalidating California’s practice of requiring charities to disclose their biggest donors to the state attorney general, attorney Casey Mattox of the conservative Americans for Prosperity Foundation se he marveled at the coalition that came together to fight the machine. .

When the California attorney general notified charities in 2010 that they had to share the information they submitted to the IRS with the Golden State, Americans for Prosperity Foundation and the Thomas More Law Center, which promotes religious freedom, they fought back. The policy, they argued, could infringe on freedom of expression and the rights of free association.

By the time the case, Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta, reached the U.S. Supreme Court last fall, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund agreed. with your cause.

“With First Amendment rights, it’s always important to ask yourself: Would you trust my least favorite person in politics to be responsible for making these determinations?” Mattox told me.

Had the court upheld the California practice, other states less friendly to leftist groups could follow suit. But that didn’t stop Sacramento.

It should be noted that the California practice focused on charities – 501 (c) (3) – not political campaigns that are required by law to report contributions.

In arguing to maintain the policy, the California attorney general’s office said it would not release donor information. But one plaintiff’s expert “was able to access hundreds of thousands of confidential documents” on the attorney general’s website by changing a digit in the official URL, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts observed in the majority opinion, which split along lines. ideological.

Speaking before the decision was released, University of California law school professor John Yoo said, “The state cannot force you to reveal anonymous nonprofit sympathizers” because the big bank recognizes that anonymity is crucial for freedom of expression and free association. . Its landmark decision NAACP v. Alabama repealed a 1958 state law that required the NAACP to disclose the identity of its members to Alabama, due to its chilling effect.

Yes, politicians should be willing to accept criticism for their public office, but governments should not use their power to intimidate citizens into not exercising their rights to freedom of expression.

Just as voters make their decisions in the privacy of the voting booth, some people prefer to keep their support for causes private.

In that sense, the dissent of Judge Sonia Sotomayor is disappointing. Like California, it blames plaintiffs for not submitting the names of donors who do not want their names made public. Without that proof, he argued, the higher court was wrong to annul “the law in its entirety.”

In reality, California politics is not what most people would call “a law.” It was not approved by the legislature or signed by a governor. It was a policy decided unilaterally by then-Attorney General Jerry Brown. His successors, Kamala Harris, Xavier Becerra, and Rob Bonta, spent large amounts of taxpayer money to set up dissident charities when there was nothing to stop them ordering specific charities to produce this documentation with a cause.

As Roberts observed, “The upshot is that California launches a network for confidential donor information from tens of thousands of charities each year, although that information will be relevant only in a small number of cases involving complaints filed.”

Pay attention to that word: dragnet.

It’s a nice way of saying: seek dirt on conservative groups.

The left likes to talk about “transparency,” a hammer that progressives use to intimidate donors to conservative political campaigns.

Opponents failed to convince California voters to reject Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that recognized marriage between a man and a woman, but they did manage to use campaign statements to punish small donors for the effort. .

In 2010, Judge Clarence Thomas wrote about the anti-Prop. 8, “I cannot endorse a First Amendment vision that subjects the citizens of this nation to death threats, ruined careers, damaged or defaced property, or threatening preemptive warning letters as the price for engaging in central political speech. “Well, Sotomayor can.”

“The rules of engagement have changed over time,” San Francisco attorney Harmeet Dhillon said Monday. “Everything is being put together.”


Debra J. Saunders is a member of the Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership at the Discovery Institute. Contact her at


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