Pro-Disclosure Ruling Will Likely Force Just One Secret-Money Group To Name Donors

Freedom Path ad

Freedom Path ad

In late March, a federal judge ruled that the Federal Election Commission had ignored the law and improperly allowed some outside groups to shield their donors from required disclosure. The decision ordered that secret-money groups running “electioneering communications” — independent ads run within 30 days of federal primaries or within 60 days of federal general elections that mention candidates but do not expressly advocate for or against them — must identify all donors contributing over $1,000 bankrolling their efforts. An appeals court refused to stay the ruling.

Today, the Federal Election Commission announced that it will retroactively implement the ruling, until such time as the ruling is overturned:

Effective March 30, 2012, persons making disbursements for electioneering communications should report “the name and address of each donor who donated an amount aggregating $1,000 or more to the person making the disbursement, aggregating since the first day of the preceding calendar year.”

While this would appear to be a victory for disclosure, a review of the new electioneering communication reports filed since that time reveals that outside groups have stopped making these types of decisions entirely. Dark money groups like Crossroads GPS and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that had previously spent heavily on electioneering communications have instead circumvented the ruling by running “independent expenditures” that are more explicitly for or against federal candidates and, ironically, do not require donor disclosure.

The one outside group that has reported a new electioneering communication since that March 30 starting point was a Utah-based 501(c)(4) committee called Freedom Path. Its $26,940 expenditure praising Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Mitt Romney was reported on April 5. As such, it appears the group will have to amend its filings to identify every donor who gave $1,000 or more in 2012.

J. Scott Bensing of Freedom Path told ThinkProgress that the group would have to consult with their legal counsel before making a statement on whether it intends to comply with the new rule.