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Oklahoma Attorney General Sued Over Abuse of Power

Court to address politically-motivated fishing expedition against animal-welfare charity

An Oklahoma state court will decide whether to limit Attorney General Scott Pruitt in his nearly yearlong campaign of political harassment and public vilification of The Humane Society of the United States. The HSUS filed a lawsuit today in Oklahoma County, alleging Pruitt has improperly sought privileged documents from the national charity. The complaint asks the court for a declaration and an injunction to stop Pruitt’s actions.

Beginning in early 2014, Attorney General Pruitt called into question the reputation and fundraising practices of The HSUS through official government channels, in interviews, and on social media. Yet based on communications with The HSUS and its attorneys, Pruitt has not received a single complaint about deceptive fundraising practices from any HSUS supporter. 

Pruitt made many of his incendiary, untrue remarks to members of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, a private organization representing agricultural interests which has long been a political adversary of The HSUS. At Oklahoma Farm Bureau gatherings throughout 2014, Pruitt falsely stated that The HSUS raised money under the guise of pet assistance in the wake of the devastating tornadoes that struck Moore, Okla., taking 24 human lives. The HSUS provided information to Pruitt demonstrating that the organization conducted no fundraising for the response to the tornadoes’ aftermath, and that its assistance was not requested by local authorities for tornado response.

The Oklahoma Farm Bureau was a leading opponent of the successful 2002 anti-cockfighting ballot initiative in the state, and also backed a separate measure, State Question 698, that would have made it impossible to qualify ballot initiatives to promote animal welfare measures. Voters rejected that state question, siding with the HSUS position. The Oklahoma Farm Bureau has also been a staunch proponent of slaughtering horses for human consumption, and The HSUS has fought off efforts to establish a horse slaughter plant in the state.

“Religious leaders, pro-life groups, and others with a values-based view of the world should be outraged by the misuse of the Attorney General’s office to mount a political attack on a charitable organization because of that’s group’s mission and beliefs,” said Cynthia Armstrong, HSUS Oklahoma state director. “It’s not the role of the government to decide whose voice should be heard. Pruitt is clearly taking this action because his political allies don’t like our work cracking down on cockfighting, puppy mills, and intensive confinement of animals on factory farms.”

The following is a timeline of the Pruitt inquiry and the HSUS response:

  • In late February, Pruitt sent The HSUS multiple Requests for Information regarding fundraising practices in Oklahoma. The HSUS responded in full in February and March.
  • On July 1, Pruitt sent The HSUS an Investigative Demand asking for far more information about governance and structure in general. This included burdensome, unnecessary details wholly unrelated to Oklahoma fundraising, including meeting notices and employee handbooks. Nonetheless, The HSUS responded in late July and August.
  • The HSUS claimed privilege for a small minority of documents. The Oklahoma Solicitation of Charitable Contributions Act explicitly exempts privileged documents from disclosure. Pruitt demanded these documents despite the privilege exemption, and refused to sign a nondisclosure agreement in exchange for receiving them.

The lawsuit also alleges that Pruitt violated state law by turning what is supposed to be a confidential, official proceeding into a publicly-waged political event, and making remarks that prejudge the result. Pruitt has asked The HSUS for additional confidential, proprietary information including attorney-client communications and future plans.

“This fishing expedition by Attorney General Pruitt is unprecedented in our history,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “No state attorney general has ever behaved in this manner. Oklahomans should not tolerate this heavy hand of government trying to suppress the work of charitable organizations based on pure politics.”

The HSUS is represented in the lawsuit by former four-term Oklahoma Attorney General W.A. “Drew” Edmondson.
 

 

Kaitlin Sanderson; 240-672-8397, ksanderson@humanesociety.org.