Lower court decision, which could force some political spending groups to reveal donor names, now heads to appeals court
A brief, somewhat cryptic order released by the U.S. Supreme Court last week has made way for the disclosure of so-called “dark money” donors who fund political advertising via nonprofit groups.
The two-sentence-long order released by the court on Tuesday, Sept. 18, read, “The application for stay, presented to the Chief Justice and by him referred to the Court, is denied. The order heretofore entered by the Chief Justice is vacated.” The order offered no elaboration and no vote-count.
Just days earlier, Chief Justice John Roberts had stayed a lower court ruling in the case Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. Federal Election Commission. The initial district court decision out of Washington, D.C., by Judge Beryl Howell required nonprofits that place political advertising to disclose donors who contribute more than $200. Previously, these groups could conceal the identity of such contributors.
Advocates of campaign finance reform pounced on the news, hailing the moment as a victory for “transparency and democracy.”
The case now heads to the federal appeals court level for a ruling. According to news reports, however, a judge is not expected to issue a decision in the case until after the November midterm elections, meaning the names of some donors who’d been previously shielded might be disclosed in the meantime.
In her lengthy 113-page ruling, Howell began by outlining the importance of the disclosure of money that’s been contributed to federal elections. “Campaign finance law has long recognized the value of disclosure as a means of enabling the electorate to make informed decisions about candidates, to evaluate political messaging, to deter actual, or the appearance of, corruption, and to aid in enforcement of the ban on foreign contributions, which may result in undue influence on American politicians. … As the protection of speech is also a fundamental value safeguarded under the First Amendment, disclosure has been upheld as “the least restrictive means of curbing the evils of campaign ignorance and corruption.’”
Howell went on, “This case concerns the requisite disclosures about contributions that organizations making independent expenditures, in support of our opposition to particular candidates for federal office, must make, when those organizations are not political committees controlled by, or operating in coordination with, candidates or national political parties.”