Legal Center Files Brief in Ongoing Disclosure Challenge, Real Truth About Obama v. FEC


On October 18, 2010, the Campaign Legal Center, along with Democracy 21, filed an amici brief in Real Truth About Obama (RTAO) v. FEC to defend FEC rules that establish when a political organization must register as a federal “political committee” and abide by comprehensive federal disclosure requirements. 

“Given the explosion of anonymous spending and secret donors in the 2010 election cycle, it is vital to protect existing disclosure laws from legal attack,” Legal Center counsel Tara Malloy said.  “The Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that disclosure is critical to ensuring an informed electorate and preventing political corruption.  We hope the district court in this case will follow in this tradition and reject the claims asserted by the Real Truth About Obama.”

Plaintiff RTAO, a “527 organization,” filed the case shortly before the 2008 presidential election because it wished to run ads criticizing then-Democratic nominee Barack Obama’s position on abortion without disclosing its donors or complying with other federal regulations applicable to political committees.  The district court denied RTAO’s motion for preliminary relief in September 24, 2008, and that decision was affirmed by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Due to several subsequent judicial decisions, most notably Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court on April 26, 2010, vacated the Fourth Circuit’s decision and remanded the case for further consideration in light of the Solicitor General’s suggestion of mootness.

Because the intervening judicial decisions mooted two of RTAO’s claims, the case upon remand now considers only RTAO’s challenge to the FEC’s definition of “expressly advocate” (11 C.F.R. 100.22(b)), and to the FEC’s implementation of the “major purpose” test for political committee status.  This rule and policy, however, are integral to the FEC’s enforcement of the federal disclosure requirements applicable to independent expenditures and to federal political committees.

The Legal Center highlighted in its amici brief that the case upon remand concerns only disclosure, emphasizing that the Supreme Court has twice upheld, by overwhelming 8-1 votes, laws promoting political transparency in this year alone.  The amici brief further argued that Citizens United had not cast doubt on the rule and policy that remained under challenge, and urged the district court to reaffirm its earlier decision rejecting RTAO’s challenge.

Previously, the Legal Center and Democracy 21 filed amici briefs with the district court on August 14, 2008, and with the Fourth Circuit on October 28, 2008.