Groups Continue to Look For Ways Around Campaign Finance Disclosure

Rick Hasen has an interesting column at Slate, discussing efforts to chip away at campaign finance regulations. Hasen suggests it will only get worse. "Opponents of reasonable regulation have a new target: trying to keep the flow of campaign money secret." For example, Citizens United submitted an advisory opinion request to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), asking if it qualifies for the "media exemption" under the Federal Campaign Finance Act. If the group does qualify, they would not be subject to disclosure requirements. Seemingly, Citizens United is seeking a way around the Supreme Court ruling that they have to report their donors, expenditures and other campaign related financial information.

According to the Washington Post, they were denied media status in 2004, but since then the group has produced twelve political documentaries. They claim this proves they should be granted the media exemption and, the group "is actually a 'press entity' that produces and distributes documentary films."

The Slate piece goes on to address the case, which may be appealed to the Supreme Court. "Again, the argument is that certain donor information—in's case, the identity of those paying for the PAC's administrative expenses—shouldn't be public."

"But there's reason to worry that the court could weaken its endorsement of disclosure in Citizens United. Later this month, the justices will hear Doe v. Reed, a case challenging disclosure of the names of people who signed a petition seeking to repeal by referendum a pro-civil-union gay rights measure passed by the Washington state legislature."

The Supreme Court has allowed exemptions from disclosure laws for donors who face threats of harassment for their campaign contributions. In Doe, those who signed the petition are seeking anonymity, claiming a fear of harassment.

These cases all contribute to a regime that encourages contributions to independent groups, which are now less regulated and are persistently seeking less disclosure.

Meanwhile, legislation expected from Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) in response to Citizens United may be introduced soon after Congress returns from recess next week. Bloomberg News reports that under their plan, "companies would lose their ability to secretly finance political advertising run by organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce." The proposed legislation would require disclosure of contributors to ads that call on voters to support or oppose a federal candidate, and such disclosure may also be required for issue ads.

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