FEC Deadlock Means No Disclosure Exemption for Tea Party Group


Today, the Tea Party Leadership Fund (TPLF) failed to gain the disclosure exemption it sought from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) when the group’s request garnered the votes of only two Republican Commissioners. The votes on two draft advisory opinions ended in 3-2 deadlocks along party lines with newly sworn-in Republican Vice-Chairman Lee E. Goodman recusing himself.

“It is encouraging that the FEC rejected the outrageous request by the Tea Party Leadership Fund, but it is disappointing that even two Commissioners were willing to go along with the idea that the Tea Party group should be eligible for an exemption originally granted to the imperiled membership of the NAACP in the Jim Crow South,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel. “Granting such an exemption would have completely ignored the vital public interest, strongly affirmed by the Supreme Court, behind disclosure laws in order to prevent corruption and inform the electorate. Had the justifiably high bar for this exemption been lowered enough to allow the Tea Party Leadership Fund qualify, it is difficult to imagine what political groups would not qualify for the exemption – including the Republican and Democratic National Committees.”

The exemption stems from a 1958 Supreme Court decision prohibiting the state of Alabama from compelling the NAACP to disclose its membership list at a time when members of the civil rights organization faced grave dangers in the Jim Crow South. The exemption has also been extended over the years to small communist and socialist organizations dating back to the Cold War, with the Socialist Workers Party’s exemption being renewed by the FEC earlier this year.

The Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed comments yesterday on the two draft advisory opinions issued in response to TPLF’s advisory opinion request (AOR 2013-17) seeking a rarely-granted exemption from disclosure laws on the grounds that disclosure “would result in threats, harassment, or reprisals from government officials or private parties.” One draft considered by the FEC would have granted the exemption and the other would not.

To read the comments filed yesterday on the draft opinions, click here.

To read the original comments filed by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 on October 18, click here.