DC Circuit Panel Rejects Request To Stay Pro-Campaign Disclosure Decision

American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS logosOur Guest Blogger is Amy Rosenbaum, a Senior Fellow with the Center for American Progress Action Fund

Last night, a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit rejected a stay of a district court ruling on March 30, 2012, which essentially required groups running so-called “electioneering communications” ads to begin disclosing the donors who funded the ads. The original ruling, by Judge Amy Berman Jackson, struck down a Federal Election Commission (FEC) regulation that permitted groups to all but eliminate the disclosure of donors behind “electioneering communications.” A briefing on the appeal of the ruling at the DC Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to be completed by early August and the oral arguments are expected sometime in September.

Why is this case a win for disclosure?

Prior to the March 30th ruling, any group running an “electioneering communication,” or a broadcast advertisement that refers to a clearly identified federal candidate proximate to an election, generally did not have to disclose the funders of that advertisement, thanks to regulations promulgated by the FEC in violation of the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA). As a result, groups like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS spent more than $1 million on broadcast advertisements during the last election cycle without revealing a single donor.

Recently, Crossroads GPS notified the FEC that it spent $500,000 on electioneering communications advertisements targeting President Obama in Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, and Missouri, again without disclosing a single donor. The Crossroads GPS ad blames President Obama for the Solyndra bankruptcy, among other things. According to their tax returns, Crossroads GPS received two $10 million donations between June 1, 2010 and the end of 2011, but the identity of these donors has remained a secret, even though their money has been funneled into campaign advertisements.

Thanks to last night’s ruling, groups like Crossroads GPS making electioneering communications 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election will now have to disclose their donors. These groups will either have to set up a separate bank account to fund their ads – and disclose all the donors of $1,000 or more to that account or alternatively disclose all the donors of $1,000 or more to their organization.

So if Crossroads GPS goes after the President again in September, we’ll know who’s really behind the ads. And that is a win for disclosure.

That is, of course, unless the court reverses the lower court when it convenes to give the case a full hearing later this year. Although a majority of the three judge panel that considered whether to grant the stay rejected this plea, Judge Karen Henderson dissented from this rulling. The D.C. Circuit is notoriously conservative, and has several judges who are at least as far to the right as Henderson, so it remains to be seen whether last night’s decision has staying power.