Ruling Could Bring Disclosure to Some Secret Election Money

In a long-running campaign finance case, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia struck down a Federal Election Commission disclosure rule, saying it was too narrow, the Washington Post reported.

The FEC rule had undermined the intent of Congress “to enable voters to be informed about who was trying to influence their decisions,” the judge wrote. “A donor can avoid reporting altogether by transmitting funds but remaining silent about their intended use.”

The Los Angeles Times said Judge Jackson ruled that “groups that run election-related ads must reveal their donors” and her decision “could force disclosure of some of the secret money flooding into elections.”

The Post gave this background about the rule: “The case hinges on a 2007-era regulation stating that organizations that run so-called ‘issue ads’ close to Election Day only have to reveal donors who give for the explicit purpose of financing those ads. Under the rule, few groups running such ads have reported their contributors.” Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., had brought a challenge to the rule, and he labeled the judge’s ruling “a victory for democracy.”

Tara Malloy of the Campaign Legal Center, part of the legal team helping Van Hollen, said, “The loophole opened by the FEC gutted the law passed by Congress and encouraged widespread abuse in the form of hundreds of millions of dollars of undisclosed ‘dark money’ ads.” She added,  “Neither Supreme Court precedent nor the underlying statute provided any justification for the FEC to adopt a rule narrowing disclosure.”

To learn about background of the litigation, see Gavel Grab. To learn about the importance of robust disclosure laws, see the JAS issues page on the topic.