Politics & Policy

A Victory for Free Speech — and Democracy

California attorney general Kamala Harris (Justin Sullivan/Getty)
Democratic prosecutors are nakedly abusing their power, but a court has made at least one stop.

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a conservative-oriented nonprofit, has won a victory in its lawsuit against California attorney general Kamala Harris, who is attempting to do with her investigatory powers what Lois Lerner did with the IRS’s: weaponize them for political purposes.

Harris is running for the Senate. She is a Democrat. AFP is associated with the Koch brothers and with any number of public-policy disputes that have left Democrats bruised and defeated. Nonprofits register federally with the IRS, and also with the states in which they are active. Harris, right around the time she decided she wanted to become a senator, also decided that the paperwork AFP and other conservative organizations had been filing for years in California was insufficient, and she demanded — this will not surprise you — a list of major donors.

Democrats have a long and ugly history of abusing such information. The most dramatic recent episode involved the IRS’s intentional leaking of documents belonging to the National Association for Marriage, in order to facilitate harassment of and retaliation against private citizens who had the bad taste to agree with Senator Obama about gay marriage and invest 20 bucks in the pursuit of their consciences. After a long and expensive legal fight, the IRS was forced to admit that it had in fact leaked the NOM documents, and it paid $50,000 to NOM in restitution. Did anybody lose his job over this? Of course not. In fact, Republican members of Congress are in a rage at the moment over the fact that the IRS has rehired hundreds of workers dismissed for improper conduct, including improper handling of private documents.

Harris made no persuasive case that this information was necessary for the enforcement of California tax law; in the event that such information should become relevant, California authorities have the power to obtain donor information via subpoena. The most charitable interpretation would be that this isn’t about investigation of a crime but pre-investigation of a pre-crime — Minority Report as performed in Sacramento — but in this case, charity would lead us astray. This was a straight-up attempt at political suppression.

This is not an investigation that would have an incidental chilling effect on free speech; the chilling effect is the entire point.

AFP convinced the federal district court that Harris’s request served no legitimate purpose and was part of a political campaign by Democrats against conservative organizations. It demonstrated, among other things, that government agencies had “systematically failed to maintain the confidentiality of Schedule B forms” containing donor information and other financial data.

This is not an investigation that would have an incidental chilling effect on free speech and political activism; the chilling effect is the entire point.

From Texas to New York to California to the U.S. Virgin Islands, this country is beset by out-of-control Democratic prosecutors attempting to criminalize dissent. Former Texas governor Rick Perry was charged with two felonies (since laughed out of court) for having vetoed a bill that he had promised to veto, angering Austin Democrats; the libertarian-leaning Competitive Enterprise Institute has been subpoenaed for private communication related to its global-warming activism; Harris and her New York counterpart, Eric Schneiderman, are up to their armpits in a scheme to prosecute Exxon for its funding of global-warming activism or, short of that, to shake it down for a large settlement. Democratic activists cooperating with corrupt judges in Ecuador tried the same thing with Chevron. These are, put plainly, attempts to prosecute political opponents for their politics — attacks on the First Amendment and on the very principle of citizen engagement in the democratic process. AFP has won this round, but the fight continues on many other fronts.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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