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Supreme Court action will make secretive political groups reveal donors - at least for the moment

September 20, 2018

Supreme Court action will make secretive political groups reveal donors - at least for the moment

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Nonprofit “dark money” groups that place particular types of political ads will have to disclose their donors as the result of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case filed over a $6 million ad campaign against Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2012.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition that would grant an “emergency stay” of a lower court ruling that invalidated a Federal Election Commission decision that let nonprofit groups hide the donors behind their political ads.

This is a real victory for transparency. As a result, the American people will be better informed about who’s paying for the ads they’re seeing this election season./2— Ellen L Weintraub (@EllenLWeintraub) September 18, 2018

The decision means that effective immediately, anyone who produces more than $250 in ads that tell voters who to vote for in a federal campaign must identify any donor who gave them more than $200 in a single year, said a statement from the watchdog organization that filed the lawsuit after the FEC rejected its complaint about the anti-Brown ads.

“This is a great day for transparency and democracy,” said a statement from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “Three courts, including the Supreme Court, have now rejected Crossroads’ arguments for a stay, meaning we’re about to know a lot more about who is funding our elections.”

Crossroads GPS, the nonprofit Republican group that mounted the ad campaign against Brown, had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to put a hold on the U.S. District Court ruling while it appealed, but the justices declined.

The decision could still be overturned as the case progresses through the legal system. It will still allow dark money groups to conceal who funds politically oriented “issue ads” that don’t expressly advocate the election or defeat of a political candidate. It will require disclosure of future donors to groups that place ads, not past donors.

“While we are disappointed the Supreme Court did not take this opportunity to ensure regulatory clarity for nonpolitical organizations that lawfully engage in election activity, we are confident we can navigate through the current morass and comply with the law, as we always have,” said a statement from Crossroads GPS spokesman Chris Pack.

In a statement on Twitter, FEC commissioner Ellen Weintraub, who supports revealing ad donors, said the decision would limit the ability of dark money groups to keep their donor lists secret during the 2018 election.

“As a result, the American people will be better informed about who’s paying for the ads they’re seeing this election season,” Weintraub said. 

GOP groups that opposed Brown in 2012 spent more than $40 million to defeat him. Brown played no role in CREW’s litigation, but applauded its efforts to increase election transparency.

“Powerful special interests from big Pharma to Wall Street have always tried to replace me because I fight for the people of Ohio and refuse to do the bidding of Washington lobbyists,” said a statement from Brown. “If those billionaire special interests want to try and drown out the votes of everyday Ohioans, they ought to have the guts to at least show their faces.”

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