New Yorkers deserve more clarity on donor leak – New York Daily News

There’s been a lot of discussion about crime in the race for New York’s attorney general — but not the violation of law committed at the attorney general’s office earlier this year.
The state attorney general’s office for years has collected financial documents from nonprofit organizations. Under former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the agency took a dangerous step and began demanding these groups — including churches, synagogues and others — turn over lists with the names and home addresses of their donors. Attorney General Letitia James continued the practice when she took office in 2019.
The state never had any defensible reason for collecting these, which is why many groups (including the Empire Center) refused to share them.
But the groups that complied found a worse fate awaited them. At least one of them, the nonprofit Stand for America, had their good behavior rewarded by having their donor list leaked illegally to a journalist.
New York Attorney General Letitia James speaking at a presser calling for credit card companies to improve tracking on gun sales at City Hall, Manhattan, New York, Tuesday, August 30, 2022. (Shawn Inglima/for New York Daily News)
This breach of constitutional privacy should concern every single New Yorker — especially because it stems from the office of the state’s top legal official. On the official attorney general’s office website, the AG boasts that her office “is charged with the statutory and common law powers to protect,” among others, charitable donors. Where does it leave us if the top legal officer can’t enforce or follow the law?
To boot, the AG’s explanation is shady, at best. James claims an “internal investigation” revealed a problem with their systems allowed for a security breach. But she didn’t, or couldn’t, explain how it was only Stand for America’s data that was leaked. New Yorkers deserve answers. That’s why the Empire Center has filed several Freedom of Information Law requests.
For starters, we asked to see the AG’s document retention and document destruction policies. We asked for any Freedom of Information Law requests to her office for nonprofit donor lists — known as Schedule Bs, and now prohibited from being collected except for by the IRS after a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year. We asked for the AG’s policy on employee access to those Schedule Bs, and a list of employees who had access to the documents.
Nearly two months after filing our requests, we’ve received bupkis.
In fact, the AG has now twice failed to meet her legal obligation to respond to our requests. And they weren’t even hard obligations to meet. First the AG failed to provide a response in the legally-prescribed time period leading to our appeal of their constructive denial. The AG then failed to answer that appeal in the 10 days prescribed by law.
With only one path of recourse left, the Empire Center is preparing to file a lawsuit to compel the attorney general to follow the law and disclose this public information.
This is about accountability and protecting the countless donors from all over the country who stand at the whim of an office that either cannot protect their freedom of speech, or refuses to do so.
Has the attorney general’s office lost its document retention schedule? Or the document destruction policy? Does the attorney general not know which of her employees has access to confidential documents? Or is there something to hide?
To ensure no more breaches take place, the office should immediately destroy any donor Schedule B documents still in its possession. And an investigation must be done to determine exactly how the Stand for America data were leaked. Those responsible must be held accountable.
To date, the AG, safely outside the jurisdiction of New York’s inspector general, has not publicly indicated that anyone has been fired, disciplined or prosecuted. The Empire Center will stay on top of this because New Yorkers deserve answers when government officials break the law. More importantly, New Yorkers deserve to know it won’t happen again.
Hoefer is president and CEO of the Empire Center.
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News

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