How Dark Money Groups Keep Their Donors Hidden
Should nonprofit groups that buy ads supporting or attacking political candidates be required to disclose their donors? The answer would seem obvious. But in the post–Citizens United landscape—where politics are awash in funds from unknown sources, in unlimited amounts—it was entirely possible that when the Supreme Court got the chance to weigh in on that question, it might side with the defenders of dark money.
Last month, though, the court made the decision to let stand a lower-court ruling that forced dark money groups—mostly the nonprofit arms of groups such as the NRA and Planned Parenthood—to disclose the identity of donors who gave more than $200 for the purpose of influencing federal elections. Champions of campaign-finance reform hailed the decision.
But the celebration proved premature. The latest FEC disclosure reports, released last week, show that most of these groups are still hiding their anonymous donors despite last month’s court order. It turns out that the new disclosure requirements are not as expansive as the reformers had hoped. There’s a gaping loophole—and Democrats are benefitting from it as much as Republicans are.
The FEC wrote the narrowest rules possible without running afoul of the courts. The commission didn’t require all nonprofit groups that fund political ads for or against candidates to unmask their donors, as reformers had hoped it would. Instead, it only required this of groups that solicited funds specifically for that purpose. As Brendan Fischer, the federal reform program director from the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center (CLC), explained, the new requirements “won’t ensure disclosure of donors to groups that spend money on ads that don’t expressly tell viewers how to vote.”
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