From an editorial in the Sacramento Bee:
Yet again, the dysfunctional Federal Election Commission has deadlocked on whether politically active organizations that try to sway elections must identify their donors.
Three Democratic-leaning commissioners insist the groups should disclose their donors. Three Republican appointees say these groups aren’t obligated to do so.
One of the groups, Washington, D.C.-based American Action Network, spent $17 million in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and other states. The other group, Americans for Job Security, based in Arlington, Va., spent $9.5 million on election-related activity in 2010.
The groups paid for ads that did not expressly urge votes for or against any candidate, though that was implied. The ads urged voters to take action by, for example, telling their representatives to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or oppose new taxes.
One such ad, aimed at Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said: “During her 18 years in Washington, Patty Murray voted for the largest tax increase in history, and repeatedly voted against tax relief. But this November, Murray promises to vote for a huge tax hike on small businesses. Ever heard of helping small businesses, Patty? Tell Sen. Murray, ‘ouch.’ We can’t afford more tax hikes.”
The FEC’s general counsel last year concluded there was “reason to believe” that both groups had as their major purpose “the nomination of federal candidates, and should have registered with the commission.”
Three Republican commissioners disagree, contending the groups’ purpose was to advocate on behalf of issues. Requiring them to register would be burdensome and impinge on their First Amendment rights, they say.
Among the ironies, the U.S. Supreme Court, controlled by Republican appointees, repeatedly has urged disclosure.
“With modern technology, disclosure now offers a particularly effective means of arming the voting public with information,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in April in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.
Spending by dark money groups increased in 2010 after courts opened the way for unlimited spending on independent campaigns by corporations and unions in the Citizens United and related cases.
The FEC estimates spending reached $310 million in 2012. Hundreds of millions more will be spent this year. Some donors on the left use such groups. Many more from the right use them.
Congress should intervene to end the stalemate, but won’t. That leaves courts to sort it out. Public Citizen, Inc., and ProtectOurElections.org filed a motion in July urging a court in Washington, D.C., to require the Karl Rove-backed Crossroads GPS to register as a political committee.
There is zero chance of a definitive ruling until long after votes cast on Nov. 4 are counted. That means voters lose yet again.