U.S. Ninth Circuit - The FindLaw 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Kochs Must Reveal Donors to California

When it comes to the hot-button topic of political fundraising, everyday individuals tend to be in agreement that there should be no secrets when it comes to the money politicians and political groups receive.

However, popular opinion does not create law and Citizens United happened. But in California, the Ninth Circuit just reversed a district court injunction and gave the state's Attorney General the power to see who the anonymous donors are behind the Koch brother-founded conservative advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity Foundation (which reportedly just founded the Super PAC American for Prosperity Action).

What's This Case About?

The Ninth Circuit decision concerned a permanent injunction that the Koch's organization sought to prevent the disclosure of its donor list to the California Attorney General's office. Although the state AG is seeking the information as part of its routine duties to review for potential fraud related to charitable donations, the organization was able to convince the district court that the risk of the AG suffering a data breach was too great to risk such a disclosure. But, as the Ninth Circuit explained, the state has a legitimate interest in securing that information, the organization failed to demonstrate an actual significant burden to their donors.

Writing for the panel, Judge Raymond Fisher explained that the lower court's finding that turning over that information would have an "actual chilling" effect or create "a reasonably probability of harassment" to the donors, was "clearly erroneous." Judge Fisher expounded further that:

"The mere possibility that some contributors may choose to withhold their support does not establish a substantial burden on First Amendment rights."

However, given the founders' deep pockets, it is unlikely that a rehearing en banc and SCOTUS challenge won't be forthcoming.

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