Secretive outside groups shelling out millions of dollars for political advertisements could now be required to disclose the donors who cut them big checks. Responding to a recent court decision, the Federal Election Commission said Friday that it will force nonprofit groups that air ads that refer to specific federal candidates, but don’t overtly advocate for or against them, to report the names and addresses of donors who give more than $1,000. The FEC’s enforcement could affect nonprofits such as the Karl Rove-backed conservative group Crossroads GPS, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Democratic group Priorities USA. Those groups have been able to raise unlimited amounts from donors, but haven’t been forced to disclose their names. The agency will require groups to report their donors retroactively, it said Friday. Groups will be forced to report donors who gave more than $1,000 since March 30, 2012.
The rules only apply to ads run close to election time; similarly-styled issue ads that mention candidates but aren’t run either 60 days before a general election or 30 days before a primary aren’t considered electioneering communications, and therefore, still not subject to FEC disclosure rules. A federal district court in March found that the FEC’s disclosure rules for the outside groups airing electioneering ads were too narrow. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) had sued the agency last year over its disclosure rules. A federal appeals court in May declined to stay the lower court ruling pending appeal, marking a victory for Van Hollen and campaign finance reform advocates.
“The FEC statement is not new policy, but rather reiterates the Van Hollen decision,” said Crossroads GPS spokesman Jonathan Collegio. “Crossroads is aware of the rules and is careful to follow them closely.” During the 2010 election cycle, Crossroads GPS and the Chamber of Commerce aired tens of millions of dollars worth of ads boosting Republicans. The Chamber has changed tactics this year, and has shifted from running electioneering communications to independent expenditures — more strongly worded types of political advertisement. Van Hollen and campaign finance reform advocates hailed Friday’s announcement.