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Center for Competitive Politics v. Harris

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

May 1, 2015

CENTER FOR COMPETITIVE POLITICS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
KAMALA D. HARRIS, in her official capacity as Attorney General of the State of California, Defendant-Appellee

Argued and Submitted, San Francisco California December 8, 2014

Page 1308

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. D.C. No. 2:14-cv-00636-MCE-DAD. Morrison C. England, Jr., Chief District Judge, Presiding.

SUMMARY [**]

Civil Rights

The panel affirmed the district court's denial of a preliminary injunction in an action brought by the Center for Competitive Politics under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking to enjoin the California Attorney General from requiring it to disclose the names and contributions of the Center's " significant donors" on Internal Revenue Form 990 Schedule B, which the Center must file with the state in order to maintain its registered status with the state's Registry of Charitable Trusts.

The panel first rejected the Center's contention that the disclosure requirement was, in and of itself, injurious to the Center and its supporters' exercise of their First Amendment rights to freedom of association. The panel held that the chilling risk inherent in compelled disclosure triggered exacting scrutiny. Under the exacting scrutiny's balancing test, the strength of the governmental interest must reflect the seriousness of the actual burden on First Amendment right. The panel held that the Center had not shown any " actual burden" to itself or to its supporters. The panel determined that the Center did not claim or produce evidence to suggest that its significant donors would experience threats, harassment, or other potentially chilling conduct as a result of the Attorney General's disclosure requirement. On the other side of the scale, the panel held that the Attorney General has a compelling interest in enforcing the laws of California and that the disclosure requirement bore a " substantial relation" to the " sufficiently important" government interest of law enforcement.

The panel also rejected the Center's contention that the disclosure requirement was preempted because Congress intended to protect the privacy of the donor information of non-profit organizations from all public disclosure when it added 26 U.S.C. § 6104, part of the Pension Protection Act of 2006. The panel held that Section 6104 does not so clearly manifest the purpose of Congress that the panel could infer from it that Congress intended to bar state attorneys general from requesting the information contained in Form 990, Schedule B.

Allen J. Dickerson (argued), Center for Competitive Politics, Alexandria, Virginia; Alan Gura, Gura & Possessky, PLLC, Alexandria, Virginia for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Kamala Harris, California Attorney General, Alexandra Robert Gordon (argued), Deputy Attorney General, San Francisco, California for Defendant-Appellee.

Joseph Vanderhulst, ActRight Legal Foundation, Plainfield, Indiana, for Amici Curiae National Organization for Marriage, Inc., and National Organization for Marriage Educational Trust Fund.

Bradley Benbrook and Stephen Duvernay, Benbrook Law Group, PC, Sacramento, California, for Amicus Curiae Charles M. Watkins.

Before: A. Wallace Tashima and Richard A. Paez, Circuit Judges, and Gordon J. Quist, Senior District Judge.[*] Opinion by Judge Paez.

OPINION

Page 1309

PAEZ, Circuit Judge:

In order to solicit tax deductible contributions in California, a non-profit corporation or other organization must be registered with the state's Registry of Charitable Trusts. Cal. Gov. Code § 12585. To maintain its registered status,

Page 1310

an entity must file an annual report with the California Attorney General's Office, and must include IRS Form 990 Schedule B. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires non-profit educational or charitable organizations registered under 11 U.S.C. § 501(c)(3) to disclose the names and contributions of their " significant donors" (donors who have contributed more than $5,000 in a single year) on Form 990 Schedule B. The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP), a non-profit educational organization under § 501(c)(3), brings this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking to enjoin the Attorney General from requiring it to file an unredacted Form 990 Schedule B. CCP argues that disclosure of its major donors' names violates the right of free association guaranteed to CCP and its supporters by the First Amendment.

CCP appeals the district court's denial of CCP's motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent the Attorney General from enforcing the disclosure requirement. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1), and we affirm.

I.

A.

CCP is a Virginia non-profit corporation, recognized by the IRS as an educational organization under § 501(c)(3). CCP's " mission is to promote and defend the First Amendment rights of free political speech, assembly, association, and petition through research, education, and strategic litigation." CCP supports itself through financial donations from contributors across the United States, including California. CCP argues that the disclosure requirement infringes its and its supporters' First Amendment right to freedom of association. CCP also argues that federal law preempts California's disclosure requirement.

Defendant Kamala Harris, the Attorney General of California, is the chief law enforcement officer of the State of California. See Cal. Const. art. 5, § 13. Furthermore, under the Supervision of Trustees and Fundraisers for Charitable Purposes Act (the Act), Cal. Gov't Code § 12580 et seq., the Attorney General also has primary responsibility to supervise charitable trusts and public benefit corporations incorporated in or conducting business in California, and to protect charitable assets for their intended use. Cal. Gov't Code § § 12598(a), 12581. The Act requires the Attorney General to maintain a registry of charitable corporations and their trustees and trusts, and authorizes the Attorney General to obtain " whatever information, copies of instruments, reports, and records are needed for the establishment and maintenance of the register." Cal. Gov't Code § 12584.

An organization must maintain membership in the registry in order to solicit funds from California residents. Cal. Gov't Code § 12585. The Act requires that corporations file periodic written reports, and requires the Attorney General to promulgate rules and regulations specifying both the filing procedures and the contents of the reports. Cal. Gov't Code § 12586(b), Cal. Code Regs. tit. 11, § 300 et seq. (2014). One of the regulations adopted by ...


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