Van Hollen Files Lawsuit Challenging FEC Regulations
Apr 21, 2011 -
Today, Congressman Chris Van Hollen filed a lawsuit challenging Federal Election Commission (FEC) regulations that have undermined the campaign finance disclosure requirements established in the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Act of 2001 (“McCain-Feingold”) to require groups that pay for “electioneering communications” ads to disclose the donors who provide those funds. These disclosure requirements apply to nonprofit corporations and other groups that conduct outside spending campaigns that influence federal elections.
Last year, in response to the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision, Congressman Van Hollen led the House effort to enhance campaign finance donor disclosure in the “Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections” (DISCLOSE) Act. This decision opened the floodgates to corporate spending in federal campaigns. The DISCLOSE Act passed the House but fell one vote short in the Senate of the 60 votes required to end the filibuster against this important election reform initiative.
“The disclosure of campaign-donor information is essential to our democracy,” wrote Van Hollen. “The absence of transparency will enable special interest groups to bankroll campaign initiatives while operating under a veil of anonymity. I will continue to press for greater donor disclosure in the courts, and in Congress, in order to bring in the much-needed sunlight. We have been unable to enact enhanced disclosure requirements through Congress. However, we have found that the requirements in existing law have been significantly loosened by the FEC’s interpretation. The lawsuit I am filing today seeks to restore the statutory requirement that provides greater disclosure of the donors who provide funding for electioneering communications. If this standard had been adhered to, much of the more than $135 million in secret contributions that funded expenditures in the 2010 congressional races would have been disclosed to the public,” Van Hollen continued.
The law requires the disclosure of the identity and contribution amounts of donors who fund electioneering communications. The FEC, in its regulation implementing the law, requires disclosure of donors only when the donation “was made for the purpose of furthering electioneering communications” by the spender. This is a restriction on contribution disclosure that is found nowhere in the statute. Congress did not include a “state of mind” or “purpose” condition tied to “furthering” electioneering communications in the relevant McCain-Feingold disclosure provision. The FEC, by adding this requirement in its regulations has contravened the plain language and meaning of the statute and gutted the contribution disclosure requirements for “electioneering communications.”
Congressman Van Hollen is also today filing a petition with the FEC which asks the agency to conduct a rulemaking proceeding to adopt new regulations that would require organizations which make “independent expenditures” also disclose the identity of their donors. The petition points out that the FEC regulations implementing the contribution disclosure requirements for “independent expenditures” are similarly contrary to the law and have similarly gutted the statutory contribution disclosure requirements for “independent expenditures.”
Congressman Van Hollen filed this FEC petition rather than bringing a lawsuit, because unlike the case of the more recent “electioneering communications” regulations, the six-year statute of limitations bars a direct challenge of the “independent expenditure” regulations in court. In order to challenge these regulations that misinterpret the statutory requirements that pertain to “independent expenditures,” Congressman Van Hollen must first file a petition for rulemaking and give the FEC an opportunity to address the problems raised by the petition.
“It is imperative that we compel the FEC to change its regulations to properly reflect the laws enacted by Congress. As a result, donor information will be significantly increased and the American people will be better able discern the special interests that are underwriting these campaign expenditures. This information will give the public valuable insight into the corporations and individuals involved in campaigns, as well as the candidates that they support. The Supreme Court has determined that corporations may make political expenditures. However, it did not intend for them to do so under the cover of darkness.” Van Hollen said.