Supreme Court Refuses to Block Decision Requiring Disclosure of Dark Money

The FEC, which is also a defendant in the case, says the ruling went into effect Tuesday

Supreme Court
J. Scott Applewhite/AP (File)

Dark money groups will be required to disclose the identities of some anonymous donors after the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to stop a lower court's ruling from taking effect.

Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit Republican group at the center of the case, had asked the high court to put a decision on hold while the case is appealed, and on Saturday Chief Justice John Roberts approved a temporary emergency motion to block the decision. But on Tuesday, the full court reversed Roberts' order and denied the group's request to stall disclosure while it prepares to appeal.

The ruling in August by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia applies to nonprofits that give money to super PACs for advertising that supports or opposes a specific federal candidate, called an "independent expenditure." Now, donors giving more than $200 to nonprofits "for the purpose of furthering an independent expenditure" have to be disclosed to the Federal Election Commission.

The FEC, which is also a defendant in the case, says the ruling went into effect Tuesday. A spokesman for Crossroads GPS lawyer, which was represented by former FEC Chairman Michael Toner, didn't respond to a request for comment.

PACs are typically made up of people of a particular profession or with a common interest who pool their money to contribute to candidates' campaigns. Donors and their contributions to PACs must be made public and there are limits on how much an individual can donate.

Super PACs, however, don't have limits on donation and spending amounts, but the entities can't donate directly to candidates or coordinate with the campaign. Their independent expenditures are typically made on media ads.

The most significant increase in spending has come from corporations, said Ashley Kemp, executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. Since the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Citizens United ruling in 2010, "corporations no longer need to form PACs as they are now able to engage directly in advocacy for or against candidates, so long as the activity is independent of candidates and their committees," Kemp said.

The case was initially brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The group sued the FEC in 2016, arguing that the agency improperly allowed Crossroads GPS to avoid disclosing donors who had given millions for ads in an Ohio congressional race.

Ellen L. Weintraub, a Democratic FEC commissioner, tweeted that the Supreme Court's decision was "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," she said.

Megan McAllen, senior counsel for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, agreed but noted the case is up for appeal.

"This is not the last we'll see of this," she said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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