Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Advocacy Groups Dealt Court Setback Donor Ad Secrecy Could Be Lifted for 2012 Campaign

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Advocacy Groups Dealt Court Setback Donor Ad Secrecy Could Be Lifted for 2012 Campaign

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Advocacy groups spending millions of dollars in the 2012 campaign are now faced with the prospect of having to reveal the donors who have been secretly financing their efforts, after a federal appellate court panel refused to block a lower-court order requiring the move.

In a 2-1 decision issued Monday evening, a U.S. Court of Appeals panel in Washington declined to stay a federal judge's ruling requiring organizations that run election-related television ads to disclose their donors.

The court's decision was a significant victory for campaign finance reform advocates who have been fighting against the deluge of secret money that has flooded the political landscape in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling in 2010.

Until the appeal of the current case is decided sometime this fall, any group that runs a type of election-related ad known as "electioneering communications" will have to disclose all of its donors since the beginning of 2011.

The stakes are high for trade associations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and an array of well-financed conservative nonprofit groups such as Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity that planned to pump millions of dollars more into television commercials attacking the policies of President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats.

Election law lawyers expect that most groups will now try to find alternative methods of communicating, rather than reveal the sources of their funding. But just the possibility that the curtain will be pulled back to reveal who has been driving campaign-related ads has buoyed reform advocates.

"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. "It certainly gives us momentum. …

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