Conservative groups pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the 2012 campaign won a reprieve Tuesday when the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington overturned a decision requiring organizations that run election-related television ads to reveal their donors. In an unsigned decision, a three-judge panel said a lower court erred in finding that Congress intended to require such disclosure. It sent a case brought by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) against the Federal Election Commission back to the district court and called on the FEC to defend its regulations or issue new ones. Practically, the ruling changes little in the short term: Nonprofit organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and Crossroads GPS changed the type of ads they were running this summer in order to sidestep the lower-court ruling and keep their donors secret.
But the appellate court decision was hailed by conservative groups as a major victory in their broader battle against the push for donor disclosure — a fight that took on new stakes after recent federal court rulings unshackled corporations and groups of wealthy individuals to spend freely on campaigns.
“We’re just delighted,” said Thomas Kirby, an attorney for the Center for Individual Freedom, one of two groups that pursued an appeal of the case. “CFIF believes that the right to engage in political speech should not be needlessly conditioned upon the loss of anonymity.” Disappointed campaign finance reform advocates said they were not giving up.