Court Victory One Part of Broader Strategy to Increase Disclosure, Transparency, and Accountability in Political System
Apr 2, 2012 -
Today Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen issued the following statement on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruling in Van Hollen v. Federal Election Commission:
“This ruling creates a ray of sunshine in a sea of secret, outside spending and represents one part of our broader strategy to increase disclosure and restore the integrity of the American electoral process. I will continue to press for greater donor disclosure – including passage of the DISCLOSE 2012 Act – until we restore transparency and accountability to our democracy.”
In the midst of an election cycle that has witnessed an unprecedented amount of outside spending by anonymous donors on Federal elections, District Court Judge Amy Jackson’s decision last Friday in Van Hollen v. FEC creates a ray of sunshine for millions of Americans concerned about the integrity of the American electoral process. By upholding Congressman Van Hollen’s challenge to the existing FEC regulations, Judge Jackson found that the FEC had severely watered down existing legal requirements to disclose donors in campaign-related ads, stating that “…Congress did not delegate authority to the FEC to narrow the disclosure requirement through agency rulemaking….” Judge Jackson’s ruling restores 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.
Filed last year, this lawsuit represents one part of Congressman Van Hollen’s multi-pronged effort to challenge the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates to corporate spending in federal campaigns. Congressman Van Hollen’s case against the FEC focused on its interpretation that considerably relaxed the campaign finance disclosure requirements of donors who contribute to campaign ads described in the McCain-Feingold Act as “electioneering communications.” These disclosure requirements apply to nonprofit corporations like the Chamber of Commerce and Crossroads GPS, and other groups on the left and right that conduct significant outside spending on campaigns to influence federal elections but fail to provide donor information.
Existing donor disclosure requirements in the McCain-Feingold Act require the disclosure of the identity of the person who makes contributions to the spender who is making the expenditure. The FEC, in its subsequent interpretation, weakened the requirement to disclose only donors 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.
Last year, Congressman Van Hollen petitioned the FEC to challenge other regulations that govern “independent expenditures.” The petition pointed out that these regulations were similarly contrary to the law and had similarly undermined the existing statutory contribution disclosure requirements. Congressman Van Hollen will confer with his counsels to determine whether to file a lawsuit regarding the FEC regulations that limit disclosure on “independent expenditure” ads in the near future.
In 2010, in response to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, Congressman Van Hollen introduced the DISCLOSE Act to address the problem of massive secret campaign donations flooding our electoral system. The House passed the DISCLOSE Act. However, unfortunately, it fell one vote short in the Senate of the 60 votes required to end a filibuster. Earlier this year, Congressman Van Hollen introduced H.R. 4010, the DISCLOSE 2012 Act, which would enhance donor disclosure. H.R. 4010 currently has 160 cosponsors.
The disclosure of campaign-donor information is essential to our democracy. The Supreme Court has determined that corporations may engage in these expenditures. However, it did not intend for them to do so under the cover of darkness. Congressman Van Hollen will continue to press for greater donor disclosure in the Courts and in Congress until we restore the much needed sunlight.