Statement of Commissioners Highlights Leniency of FEC Disclosure Rules

Earlier this week, the three Republican members of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) released a statement of reasons explaining their votes in May to dismiss a case against a no longer active 501(c)(4) group, Freedom's Watch. The Washington Independent says that the material released "bodes particularly ill for the chances of any form of meaningful campaign finance disclosure from independent groups during the upcoming election cycle."

After a 2008 ad titled "Family Taxes," the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) filed a complaint charging that the group violated FEC rules by failing to report the donors who paid for the ad. The Republican commissioners interpreted the disclosure rules to require information about donations "only if such donations are made for the purpose of furthering" a specific ad.

The statement of reasons says, "there is no specific evidence to contradict the assertion of Freedom's Watch that all funds contributed during 2008 were for general purposes." However, if a group primarily engages in producing electioneering communications, wouldn't donations likely go towards producing the ads? As opponents of the DISCLOSE Act have argued, existing disclosure requirements are adequate to reveal who is funding campaign ads. However such rules, as demonstrated with this case, can easily be avoided.

According to BNA Money and Politics ($$), their "statement is relevant to ongoing questions about when groups funding ads or other campaign spending must disclose donors. Despite recent requests by FEC staff that some of these groups provide information about their donors, the GOP commissioners' statement indicates they would vote to require disclosure only when it can be demonstrated that a specific donation was linked to a specific ad."

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