Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Appellate court decision shields donors funding election-related ads

WASHINGTON — A U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington on Tuesday overturned a decision requiring organizations that run election-related television ads to reveal their funders, saying a lower court erred in finding that Congress intended to require such disclosure — a victory for some of the biggest groups participating in the 2012 campaign.

In an unsigned decision, the three-judge panel wrote that it was "doubtful" that Congress anticipated how campaign finance rules would change and sent the case back to the lower court for further review.

But for the remainder of this election the ruling lets up the pressure on GOP-allied organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and Crossroads GPS, which changed their ad strategies after a federal judge ruled this spring that Congress intended such groups to disclose their donors.

"We're just delighted," said Thomas Kirby, an attorney for the Center for Individual Freedom, one of two groups that pursued an appeal of the case. "CFIF believes that the right to engage in political speech should not be needlessly conditioned upon the loss of anonymity."

Rep. Christopher Van Hollen, D-Md., who brought the case against the Federal Election Commission, issued a statement saying the appellate decision "struck a blow against transparency in the funding of political campaigns."

"The Court of Appeals' decision today will keep the American people, for the time being, in the dark about who is attempting to influence their vote with secret money," he added.

The case hinges on the Federal Election Commission's interpretation of the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act, a landmark campaign finance reform measure that, among other things, required groups that engage in "electioneering communications" to reveal all their contributors.

"The Court of Appeals got it wrong," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a campaign finance reform group. "There is no way Congress enacted a statute to result in no disclosure of contributors when the statute calls for all disclosure of contributors."

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