It's All Politics
5:22 pm
Tue May 15, 2012

Court Action May Lift Anonymity For Some Campaign Donors

Originally published on Tue May 15, 2012 5:46 pm

Nonprofit groups that want to run campaign ads within two months of the general election have to reveal the names of their donors. That's the result of a federal appeals court action on campaign finance law.

Several weeks ago, a federal court in Washington told the Federal Election Commission it could not allow the buyers of tens of millions of dollars' worth of ads to remain anonymous.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit late Monday, on a 2-to-1 vote, refused to grant a stay of that decision pending appeal. It ordered the full appeal to be heard sometime this fall.

At issue is the ability of tax-exempt groups that run political ads within two months of the general election — or within one month of a primary — to keep secret the names of their donors. Such groups spent some $80 million in the 2010 congressional elections, primarily supporting conservative candidates or attacking their opponents. The donors behind less than 10 percent of that amount were ever disclosed.

"It's a very important victory in the battle to end the secret contributions that are currently being funneled into federal elections," said Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, the liberal group that worked with Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., to sue the FEC.

The ruling applies specifically to so-called electioneering communications. Not addressed were nonprofit groups that make what are called "independent expenditures" in campaigns. Those are covered in a different section of campaign finance law.

Wertheimer says his group is contemplating a second lawsuit seeking to disclose the donors who finance those forms of ads as well.

S.V. Dáte is the congressional editor for NPR's Washington Desk.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Nonprofit groups that want to run campaign ads close to voting days will have to reveal the names of their donors. That's the result of a federal appeals court decision last night. The decision allows an earlier federal court ruling to stand, one that told the Federal Election Commission it could not allow the buyers of tens of millions of dollars' worth of political ads to remain secret.

NPR's S.V. Date reports.

S.V. DATE, BYLINE: At issue is the ability of tax-exempt groups that run political ads within two months of the general election or within one month of a primary to keep secret the names of their donors. Such groups spent some $80 million in the 2010 congressional elections, primarily supporting conservative candidates or attacking their opponents. The donors behind less than 10 percent of that amount were ever disclosed. But the ruling late Monday by the Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit means that anonymity is over.

Fred Wertheimer is with Democracy 21, the liberal group that worked with the Democratic Congressman to sue the FEC.

FRED WERTHEIMER: This is a very important victory in the battle to end the secret contributions that are currently being funneled into federal elections.

DATE: The court ruling so far applies specifically to so-called electioneering communications. Not addressed were nonprofit groups that make what are called independent expenditures in campaigns - those are covered in a different section of campaign finance law.

Wertheimer said his group is contemplating a second lawsuit to disclose donors financing that form of ad, as well.

S.V. Date, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.