The Supreme Court just let stand a ruling requiring many anonymous “dark money” donors that finance aggressive campaign ads to reveal their identities.
The ruling closes a loophole which allowed billionaire donors to finance inflammatory political ads without revealing their names. Any donor giving more than $200 for political advertising will now have to disclose their identities.
While the loophole has existed for nearly 40 years, it was abused far more blatantly in the wake of Citizens United, which infamously ruled that political spending is a form of free speech that’s protected under the First Amendment.
In the seven years since Citizens United, the top 15 dark money groups raised and spent more than $600 million in secret money to support mostly-conservative political candidates, according to a research report published just one week before today’s ruling.
Today’s decision originates from a complaint filed six years ago by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) against Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit which has spent tens of millions of dollars in support of Republican candidates.
A lawyer for Crossroads, former FEC chairman Michael Toner of the firm Wiley Rein, did not immediately respond to a request for comment after the Supreme Court’s move on Tuesday.
CREW’s executive director, Noah Bookbinder, said today’s ruling “is going to affect spending in the 2018 elections. Groups that run these kinds of ads — ads that tell you to vote for or against another candidate — are going to have to disclose their contributors, and that is incredibly important.”
“This is a real victory for transparency,” said Ellen Weintraub, vice chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission. “As a result, the American people will be better informed about who’s paying for the ads they’re seeing this election season.”
Weintraub said she expected the leaders of the Federal Election Commission will likely meet soon to make clear whether which donors will need to be disclosed.
When reached by phone, award-winning journalist Jane Mayer, who wrote the national bestseller Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, told Grit Post she hadn’t yet read the Supreme Court decision and declined to comment.
Nathan Wellman is a Grit Post contributing editor in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @LIGHTNINGWOW. You can also email him at info AT gritpost DOT com.