Court upholds ruling for disclosure of secret donors

On Monday, a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied a motion for a stay against the March 30 ruling by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson that said the Federal Election Commission narrowed disclosure requirements for “electioneering communications” without Congress granting it authority to do so.

In a five-page order, the appeals court upheld that ruling and said opponents didn’t provide evidence that donors would face harassment if their names were disclosed. Further, groups are free to create a separate bank account for donors that could hide their names, as long as that account doesn't fund issue ads.

The appeals court also cited the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which said disclosure of contributors would help voters make “informed choices” in political campaigns. That decision also allowed corporations and unions to contribute unlimited funds for their own political activities and is credited by watchdog groups for the rise of super-PACs this election year.

501(c)(4) nonprofit groups often run issue ads, or “electioneering communications,” that mention a candidate, though not expressly advocating for that candidate’s defeat or election. Those groups also do not have to disclose their donors to the public. The court ruling would reverse that.

Campaign finance reform advocates cheered the appeals court’s order. 

“This is a very important victory in the battle to end secret contributions being funneled into federal elections,” said Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer in a statement. “This case represents the first major breakthrough in the effort to restore for the public the disclosure of contributors who are secretly providing massive amounts to influence federal elections.”