Advocacy groups spending millions of dollars to influence the 2012 election now face the prospect of having to reveal their secret donors, after a federal appellate court panel refused to block a lower-court order requiring the disclosure. In a 2-to-1 decision issued Monday evening, a U.S. Court of Appeals panel here declined to stay a ruling by a federal judge requiring tax-exempt organizations that run election-related television ads to disclose their donors. The panel’s decision was a significant victory for campaign finance reform advocates who have been fighting against the deluge of money — much of it from undisclosed donors — that has flooded the political landscape in the wake of several Supreme Court decisions, including the 2010 Citizens United case.
“It’s the first major breakthrough in overcoming the massive amounts of secret contributions that are flowing into federal elections,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of the reform group Democracy 21, one of the groups involved in the case brought by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) against the Federal Election Commission. “The American people have a right to know who is bankrolling the ads that are designed to influence their votes,” Van Hollen said in a statement.
Conservative legal experts argue that requiring disclosure exposes political donors to potential retribution, stifling free speech. “This is really about incumbent politicians trying to silence voices they don’t agree with,” election law lawyer Jason Torchinsky said in an interview last week.