Dark Money Groups Must Disclose Wealthy Backers, U.S. Supreme Court Says

Posted: September 19, 2018
Updated: September 20, 2018

Dark Money Under Light

The names of wealthy contributors to certain political nonprofit groups that often sponsor negative ads and mailings during elections must be disclosed, following U.S. Supreme Court action on Tuesday.

The high court decided not to grant a request to stay a ruling by U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell in Washington. Howell’s ruling threw out a 40-year-old Federal Election Commission (FEC) rule that allowed nonprofit groups organized as 501(c)(4) “social welfare” and 501(c)(6) “business league” outfits to keep secret contributors who helped pay for their political activities.

Groups that sponsor ads and other electioneering activities that say who to vote for or against will have to publicly report the names of contributors who contribute more than $200 to help pay for those activities beginning Sept. 19, according to Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) in Washington, D.C.

The decisions do not have an impact on campaign finance reporting in state-level elections, only federal elections.  State law requires these types of committees to report independent expenditures in excess of $2,500 within 60 days of an election, but does not require them to identify their contributors, according to David Buerger, staff counsel with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission.

Committees that have a major purpose of making independent expenditures in Wisconsin or use more than 50 percent of their total spending in a 12-month period on independent expenditures in Wisconsin, and exceed $2,500 in activity, are required to register and report to the commission must disclose their contributions and expenditures.  However, non-resident independent expenditure committees are only required to report expenditures made within the state as well as contributions from within the state, Buerger said.

The decisions by Howell and the U. S. Supreme Court involve a 2016 case in which CREW sued Crossroads GPS, a conservative group, and the FEC.

A federal appeals court is still scheduled to hear an appeal of Howell’s ruling but no decision is expected until after the November elections.

To read more about the decision, go here and here.