Rep. Van Hollen Files Brief in Appeal to his Successful Challenge to Political Ad Donor Disclosure Regs


Today, Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) filed a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia urging the court to uphold a lower court ruling in Van Hollen v. FEC that requires comprehensive disclosure of donors to groups making “electioneering communications.” 

Rep. Van Hollen successfully challenged a Federal Election Commission (FEC) regulation that improperly narrowed the scope of McCain-Feingold law donor disclosure requirements allowing nonprofit 501(c)(4) advocacy groups, 501(c)(6) business associations, and others to spend tens of millions of dollars on “electioneering communication” without disclosing the donors to the groups paying for the ads.

“The law passed by Congress clearly requires disclosure of the funders for groups making ‘electioneering communications,’ yet the FEC ignored both the letter and intent of the law and in effect made the disclosure provision optional,” stated Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel.  “The lower court rightly condemned this gutting of the law as it is not the job of a regulatory agency to rewrite the laws passed by Congress but instead to promulgate rules that implement the statutes as they were written.  Congress passed a law requiring groups making electioneering communications to disclose the names of ‘all contributors who contributed’ $1,000 or more to the group paying for the ads.  Yet in 2010 election cycle, thanks to the FEC’s now-invalid rule, the sources of less the 10% of the tens of millions of dollars spent were ever disclosed.  Americans have a right to know who is trying to buy election results and political influence.”

On March 30, 2012, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled for Rep. Van Hollen and stuck down the FEC regulation that allowed spenders to hide their donors, holding that it was arbitrary, capricious and contrary to the federal campaign finance statute it purports to implement.  The FEC did not to appeal the decision, but an appeal was filed by two corporate funded non-profit groups that have intervened in the case.

“Electioneering communications” are broadcast advertisements that name a candidate and air within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election.  Groups making electioneering communications in excess of $10,000 are now required to disclose all their donors of $1,000 or more, or establish and use a segregated bank account for electioneering communications and disclose the donors of $1,000 or more to that account.

Lawyers for the Campaign Legal Center, Democracy 21 and Public Citizen are part of Rep. Van Hollen’s pro bono legal team, led by Roger Witten of the law firm WilmerHale.

To read the brief, click here.