Paul L. Caron
Dean



Monday, May 9, 2016

The IRS Scandal, Day 1096

IRS Logo 2Bloomberg BNA, Americans for Prosperity Shows That Rough and Tumble Issue Activism Could Serve as a Shield for Charities Against Donor Disclosures:

We all know the saying “politics ain’t beanbag” – and the ranks of candidates for high office seem to be living by that adage. But in the last several years we have seen a significantly more confrontational style filter down to the grassroots issue activists behind any number of organizations and causes – threats to boycott stores (see Hobby Lobby Stores) or even entire states (North Carolina and not too long ago Georgia) over laws or stances taken; calls for individuals to be fired from their jobs or otherwise “economically disciplined” for expressing opinions deemed “unacceptable” (such as Brendan Eich’s ouster from Mozilla for donating to the California Proposition 8 campaign after calls from activists or Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran’s dismissal for expressing his disapproval of same-sex marriage in a religious book he published); and even instances of physical altercations or harassment (picketing the homes of politicians’ families, or attempting to physically disrupt events or attendees). Now we may see that style of politics become a tool by which charities and other exempt organizations challenge state-level disclosure requirements that would force them to disclose donor information. ...

Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP) won just such a challenge when Judge Manuel Real of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California held California’s requirement for charities to file annually with the Attorney General (AG) their unredacted Form 990 Schedule B (Schedule of Contributors) to be unconstitutional as applied to AFP. Judge Real permanently enjoined the AG from requiring or demanding AFP’s Schedule B information.

The primary basis for the decision was extensive trial evidence of harassment and intimidation that supporters of AFP and those affiliated with it have experienced. Though Judge Real only recounted a few of the incidents established at trial, the details sound like much of the activism that is becoming more prevalent: An IT contractor took to social media to condemn AFP (and suggest that he could easily slit the throat of AFP’s CEO) and was later found in the garage photographing license plates; protestors at an event cut down the tent being used for the function while attendees were still inside; major donors have received numerous death threats and had their business boycotted once their affiliation has become known; the Koch brothers, long-time supporters have been threatened, along with their families, including their grandchildren (who are all still minors). As Judge Real put it in conclusion, “the Court finds that AFP supporters have been subjected to abuses that warrant relief….” ...

In the end, Judge Real’s opinion may work to open the floodgates for other organizations that have been targeted for various forms of harassment or abuse. Several states have either instituted, revived, or proposed requirements that charitable organizations file their Schedule B information with state officials. And while California has been the focal point of challenges, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has upheld a similar New York requirement against a facial challenge (see Citizens United v. Schneiderman). While the initial failure of those facial challenges may have dampened litigation at first, this new decision will certainly result in additional interest in litigating these disclosure requirements, even if it must be done on an organization-by-organization basis. For now, we can only wait and see what, if anything, the Ninth Circuit does on appeal.

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2016/05/the-irs-scandal-day-1096.html

IRS News, IRS Scandal, Tax | Permalink

Comments