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Exempt Orgs Must Disclose Electioneering Benefactors

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on May 18, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that certain tax exempt groups who finance electioneering ads must disclose the names of their donors, reports the Associated Press.

The court held that a law requiring disclosure of the names of contributors was not shown to be harmful to the contributors. This comes after a federal district court ruling in March against the Federal Election Commission. The FEC had not been enforcing the disclosure law.

The main argument behind keeping the identities of the ad backers anonymous was that the disclosure of the names of the secret donors could subject the donors to threats and potential retribution. A further argument was made that the disclosure of the names violated free speech.

The lawsuit was originally initiated by Democratic Representative Chris Van Hollen, who challenged the FEC's regulation.

This decision comes at a time when electioneering is in full swing. Advocacy groups and PACs are spending millions of dollars in attempts to frame public views in support of or opposition to presidential candidates.

Now, with the prospect of having to reveal the names of their secret donors, the groups are not thrilled.

The D.C. Circuit's denial of the emergency stay pending appeal decision was a 2-to-1 decision; a full hearing on the merits will take place in September.

Essentially, the ruling touches exempt organizations that run "electioneering communications." These types of ads are television spots that make reference to a particular candidate but don't necessarily advocate a position on the candidate. The ads air within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election.

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