Appeals Court Approves Secrecy for TV Political Ad Donors

Thursday, September 20, 2012
Karl Rove and David Koch (AP Photos)

Super PACs and other special interest groups seeking to influence this year’s elections will not have to disclose who their funders are, thanks to a Washington, DC, appellate court.


A three-member panel of judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals in DC overturned a lower court ruling from earlier this year that ordered organizations that run election-related television ads to reveal their donors.


The appeals court said Judge Amy Berman Jackson was wrong to believe Congress, in adopting the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, intended to mandate such disclosure.


The ruling represents a victory for Republican-friendly groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and Crossroads GPS, which had changed their ad strategies following Jackson’s decision in May. In order to avoid disclosure, Americans for Prosperity, which was founded by billionaire David Koch, and Crossroads GPS, which was formed by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, reorganized as nonprofit social welfare organizations, which are not allowed to concentrate on political advocacy a(but do so anyway), but do not have to reveal the names of their donors. The new ruling eliminates the need for this charade.


Representative Christopher Van Hollen (D-Maryland), who has fought for greater transparency in elections and was a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that launched the case, issued a statement that “The Court of Appeals’ decision today will keep the American people, for the time being, in the dark about who is attempting to influence their vote with secret money.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky


To Learn More:

Groups That Run Election Ads May Keep Donors Secret, Court Rules (by Matea Gold, Los Angeles Times)

Van Hollen Decision Overturned (by Russ Choma,

Court Says Groups Can Keep Donors Secret (by Kenneth Vogel and Tarini Parti, Politico)

Center for Individual Freedom v. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (U.S. District Court, District of Columbia) (pdf)

Two Campaign Groups with Anonymous Donors Outspend all Super PACs Combined (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

IRS Balks at Investigating Tax-Exempt Organizations Accused of Violating Tax Laws (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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