Supreme Court move forces ‘Dark money’ groups to disclose contributors

September 18, 2018

Some “dark money” political campaign operatives will no longer be able to cloak big financial contributors’ identities after the Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed a lower court ruling to take effect.

Though the legal battle is not yet over, at least for now the move means nonprofit groups who weigh in on political matters by spending more than $250 must follow disclosure rules, reporting the identities of anyone who gave at least $200 in a year.

The requirement will go into effect immediately, affecting groups already engaged in politicking for the November election, according to the plaintiffs.

“This is a great day for transparency and democracy,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which brought the challenge. “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.”

Crew, a liberal watchdog, filed a challenge six years ago to the activities of Crossroads GPS, a conservative nonprofit co-founded by former Bush political advisor Karl Rove, which tested the limits of campaign finance regulations.

Crossroads raised tens of millions of dollars, some of which it spent on political messaging. But it argued since it was a nonprofit, not a campaign committee, it was governed by a different set of regulations that protected it from having to disclose all its donors.

The Federal Election Commission had long blessed that distinction between political committees and educational nonprofits who, while engaging in political messaging, don’t make it their chief purpose.

Critics, though, said the lines have blurred in recent years.

Judge Beryl A. Howell, an Obama appointee to the federal district court in Washington, D.C., agreed, ruling last month that the FEC’s rules were invalid.

Crossroads had asked the Supreme Court to stay Judge Howell’s decision. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. had granted a stay but the full court on Tuesday said it had erased the stay.

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