Court ruling doesn't stop untraceable election spending

Associated Press

More than 100 outside groups spent over $50 million on “independent expenditure” ads during the closing months of last year’s midterm election season. But only about 8 percent of them revealed information about the donors behind the ads, according to a new report.

Ever since the Supreme Court’s landmark 2010 Citizens United decision paved the way for more money in politics, spending by outside groups like super political action committees and nonprofit “social welfare” organizations has skyrocketed. They can spend vast sums as long as they do not coordinate with the candidates they back. Frequently, though, that money cannot be traced. And it’s often donated by wealthy individuals who may have a vested interest in who gets elected.

The report released this week by the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center offers just the latest discouraging news for campaign finance activists, many of whom hailed a federal court ruling last year in Washington, D.C., as a game changer that would force so-called dark money groups to reveal more information about their donors.

The August decision in the case of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. the Federal Election Commission appeared to crack down on the lack of disclosure. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell ruled that donors who give for political purposes and independent expenditure campaigns should be disclosed.

But the task of clarifying how to apply the decision fell to the FEC, which issued vague guidance that has allowed outside groups to skirt disclosure, said Brendan Fischer, an attorney for the CLC, which advocates for greater transparency in election spending.

“The FEC’s inaction and dysfunction has signaled to many ‘dark money’ groups that secret spending can continue unabated,” Fischer said.

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