Supreme Court leaves in place decision that will shine a light on dark money
This article was written by CLC's president, Trevor Potter.
The disastrous Citizens United decision in 2010 is often blamed for the explosion in dark money in recent elections. But that decision actually presumed full disclosure of donors in elections. Instead, the failures of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to enforce existing disclosure laws is one reason we have dark money – and the failure of Congress to step in and write more complete disclosure rules is the other.
Recently, in a victory for transparency in elections, a lower court ruled that groups spending money on this fall’s midterm election races must disclose their donors. Then, days ago, both the D.C. Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a plea from a dark money group to stay the lower court’s decision, so it now takes immediate effect for the remainder of this election year.
The law states that groups running “express advocacy” ads must publicly disclose their contributors, but the FEC wrote a rule that distorted and narrowed the requirement and thereby defeated almost all donor disclosure by non-profit groups spending money in elections. Then, in response to a 2011 rulemaking petition filed by my organization, the Campaign Legal Center (CLC), and Democracy 21, asking the FEC to fix the rule, the agency deadlocked 3-3, even though the explosion of dark money spending following Citizens United made it abundantly clear that the rule was rendering the statute meaningless. Many groups, including CLC and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), filed complaints with the FEC about the resulting dark money activity, and CREW sued the Commission for failure to require disclosure by Crossroads GPS.
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