A federal judge’s ruling late Friday marked a major victory in the ongoing battle for more disclosure on money spent influencing federal elections.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) issued a press release celebrating a decision handed down by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell, of the District of Columbia, who ruled in favor of CREW in their lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission (FEC) Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS group.
“This ruling looks like a major game changer,” CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder stated. “Based on this ruling , the public should know a whole lot more about who is giving money for the purpose of influencing an election, and it will be much harder for donors to anonymously contribute to groups that advertise in elections.”
CREW was challenging a 30-plus year-old FEC regulation that served to prevent disclosure of certain “dark money” spending, which groups like Crossroads GPS used to its advantage in order to conceal the origin of certain expenditures. According to court documents, the regulation being challenged allowed for donors to political action committees (PACs) to make their donations with pass-through entities that would be used to “route” money to a PAC, thereby creating a massive loophole in disclosure laws.
However, Judge Howell’s ruling stated the FEC regulation in question was, in fact, detrimental to Congress’ intent in making campaign finance more transparent when setting U.S. election transparency laws.
“The challenged regulation facilitates such financial ‘routing,’ blatantly undercuts the congressional goal of fully disclosing the sources of money flowing into federal political campaigns, and thereby suppresses the benefits intended to accrue from disclosure, including informing the electorate, deterring corruption, and enforcing bans on foreign contributions being used to buy access and influence to American political officials,” Judge Howell wrote in her ruling.
Because the decision was just handed down Friday evening, it’s not immediately clear how this new precedent will clash with a recent decision by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stating dark money groups no longer have to disclose donors to the IRS. Coincidentally, the disclosure decision from Mnuchin came just several days after accused Russian spy Maria Butina was indicted by the Department of Justice for allegedly infiltrating American political groups like the National Rifle Association.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.