A Judge Turns on the Light on Campaign Finance

by - April 03, 2012

The secret-donor problem began in 2007 when the Supreme Court, in the Wisconsin Right to Life case, ended restrictions on corporate and union political spending by advocacy groups in the weeks prior to an election. A few weeks later, the Federal Election Commission, naïvely suggesting that some corporate donors to those groups might not have intended to give for political purposes, said that only those donations explicitly earmarked for political purposes had to be disclosed. The loophole was obvious: Just don’t declare any donation to be political, and they can all be secret.

The rule does not apply to modern “super PACs,” which exist for political purposes and must disclose their donors. But it allowed groups that accept money for other purposes, like the United States Chamber of Commerce, to collect millions of undisclosed dollars to buy ads that criticize candidates who differ with their pro-business agenda.

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