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Court Overturns Rule Allowing Anonymous Political Donations to Nonprofits

Virginia Primary ElectionVirginia Primary Election
A voter arrives at the Philomont, Va fire station in Virginia's 10th Congressional district, Rep. Barbara Comstock's district, on primary election day in Virginia on June 12, 2018.Bill Clark—CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

A U.S. District Court on Friday rejected election regulations that allowed even very large donors to politically active nonprofit groups to remain anonymous. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the group which brought the suit, described the ruling as “a major game changer” in an era when political spending by non-campaign groups has become not only unchecked, but increasingly opaque.

As reported by Politico, the ruling was issued by Judge Beryl A. Howell, who wrote in her decision that the Federal Election Commission’s current lax reporting rule “blatantly undercuts the congressional goal of fully disclosing the sources of money flowing into federal political campaigns, and thereby suppresses the benefits intended to accrue from disclosure” of political funding.

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The ruling could require 501(c) 4 nonprofits such as Planned Parenthood and the Club for Growth to report the sources of contributions over $200 that go towards efforts to influence federal elections. CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement that the ruling will allow the public to “know a whole lot more about who is giving money for the purpose of influencing an election”.

The ruling stems from a suit CREW brought against the FEC in connection to spending by Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, which did not disclose the donors behind $6 million spent campaigning against Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown in 2012.

The decision is subject to appeal, either by the FEC or by Crossroads GPS.