Latest Court Disclosure Challenge Opposed by Campaign Legal Center


The Campaign Legal Center today submitted an amicus brief  in opposition to the latest attempt by outside groups to gut existing disclosure laws in a case brought by the Hispanic Leadership Fund (HLF) against the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The organization is seeking to air television advertisements criticizing President Obama without complying with “electioneering communication” disclosure requirements, which include donor disclosure.

“Electioneering communication” disclosure requirements apply to broadcast ads that refer to a clearly identified candidate in close proximity to an election. The law defines “clearly identified” to include not only ads that explicitly name a candidate, but also ads that make the identity of the candidate “apparent by unambiguous reference.”

The ads proposed by HLF would not mention President Obama by name and instead would use the terms “the White House” and “the Administration” and even audio recordings of the President’s voice. In an attempt to evade the electioneering communication disclosure requirements, HLF argues that its ads do not refer to a clearly identified candidate.

“The proposed ads are unsubtle and unambiguous attack ads against a clearly identified candidate. Federal law requires the funders of such advertisements to be revealed to the public,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel. “For decades the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld disclosure laws as serving the vital public interests in enabling voters to make informed decisions on Election Day and preventing corruption of elected officials. The court should reject HLF’s efforts to deny voters this critical information regarding the special interests trying to sway their votes.”

HLF v. FEC was originally filed in federal court in Des Moines, Iowa, but the court dismissed it as an improper venue.

The challenge is based on an advisory opinion request (AOR) filed with the FEC in June by American Future Fund (AFF), asking whether it could run similar ads to those proposed by HLF. The FEC, as it has regularly under the current lineup of commissioners, deadlocked on whether such advertisements constitutedelectioneering communications requiring donor disclosure reports. The Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed comments arguing that the ads clearly constituted “electioneering communications” subject to disclosure laws requiring the group to reveal its funders.  

To read the brief filed today by the Campaign Legal Center, click here. 

To read the comments filed by the Legal Center and Democracy 21, click here.