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Eric Schneiderman wins case over Citizens United donations

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks as

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks as Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey looks on during a press conference at the office of the New York Attorney General, July 19, 2016 in New York City. Credit: Getty Images / Drew Angerer

ALBANY — A federal court on Monday dismissed a lawsuit by the foundation of the national conservative political group known as Citizens United, which had sought to keep its charitable donors from disclosure to the state attorney general’s office.

State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman won the case in U.S. District Court in Manhattan with Judge Sidney H. Stein ruling that Citizens United showed “not a single plausible claim.”

Citizens United had argued that the state policy of identifying charitable donors to the attorney general’s office, which regulates charities, risked public release of contributors’ names, addresses and the amounts they donated.

Citizens United vice president and general counsel Michael Boos said the group may amend its legal challenge or appeal Monday’s decision.

“We don’t think this was a proper ruling based on the way the complaint was pleaded,” Boos said in an interview, citing a technical aspect of the judge’s analysis. “We think that our complaint clearly states a cause of action under the First Amendment.”

Monday’s ruling is also a political victory for Democrats, including Schneiderman, who have blamed Citizens United, in a separate case it won, for allowing big money donors nearly unrestricted authority to support or attack candidates in multimillion-dollar TV ads.

Citizens United’s groundbreaking 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision found that spending by political action committees is protected as free speech under the Constitution and that government can’t stop corporations and unions from creating deep-pocketed independent groups to support or oppose candidates. The decision has been seen by good-government advocates as allowing big money donors too much influence in political campaigns.

Monday’s decision on Citizens United’s foundation doesn’t affect the high court’s ruling involving Citizens United’s political action committees, but it does uphold state law that requires donors to charities to be identified so that regulators can know who is financing the group’s message and actions.

“New Yorkers deserve to know their donations are protected against fraud and abuse, and today the court protected that right by dismissing each and every one of Citizens United’s claims,” Schneiderman said in a statement.

Citizens United had argued that its donors could be vulnerable to retaliation if they were identified. The group in court filings said its mission is to “promote the traditional American values of limited government, free enterprise, strong families, and national sovereignty and security.”

“Attorney General Schneiderman has been highly critical of Citizens United in particular as a result of our landmark Supreme Court decision,” Boos said. “He has put out scathing statements about us in his official news releases. Of all people, we are particularly concerned about him having the names and addresses and contribution amounts of our most valuable supporters.”

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