In what is being hailed as a victory for campaign finance transparency, the Supreme Court has rejected an attempt to keep secret the name of a donor who gave $1.7 million to a Republican super PAC eight years ago.
The decision holds some potential to make it more difficult for so-called dark money groups to shield the identities of their biggest contributors in this campaign season and beyond. Increasing sunlight on the forces pouring so many millions into American politics is a main goal of democracy reform groups at a time when increased regulation is not a realistic hope.
The high court on Monday let stand an appeals court's ruling that the donor — a trust fund and its trustee identified only as "John Doe" in court filings — has no right to remain anonymous and may be publicly identified by the Federal Election Commission.
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Ten years ago exactly — on Jan. 21, 2010 — the Supreme Court gave the green light to unlimited political expenditures by corporations, labor unions and nonprofit groups. The decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which said curbs on such spending violated the First Amendment, fundamentally changed the way elections are financed today.
A decade later the majority opinion in Citizens United is labeled, more often than any other single thing, as the ultimate antagonist of the democracy reform movement. The ruling has become so infamous it's used as shorthand for a campaign financing system that gives lopsided political advantage to the wealthiest over everyday citizens, including for reasons that have nothing to do with that case. That said, however, the decision has permitted groups that are not affiliated with any candidate or political party to pour almost $4.5 billion into the subsequent campaigns for president and Congress — an astonishing six times the total for all such independent expenditures in the two previous decades.
The 10-year anniversary has campaign finance experts all along the ideological spectrum reflecting on what the decision has meant for American politics, and what changes to laws and regulations might withstand court challenges and limit the impact of Citizens United in the decade ahead — on the assumption the ruling is on the books for at least that much longer.
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The Trump re-election campaign warned donors not to get duped into giving to a friendly-seeming political organization – and in the process violated federal law, a pair of campaign finance watchdogs allege.
The campaign urged supporters this week to steer clear of solicitations from so-called "scam PACs," fundraising operations that raise money only to perpetuate their own existence and feather the nests of their operators. The warning came after revelations that the Presidential Coalition has raised $18.5 million since 2017 (with branding suggesting collaboration with Trump) but only spent 2 percent of its revenue on political activities. The rest went to support the super PAC's leader, David Bossie, a former Trump deputy campaign manager and still one of his most high-profile conservative allies. The details about the group's operation were reported by the Campaign Legal Center and Axios.
A form of political actions committee that is permitted to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for or against a candidate. They must report contributions and spending — known as independent expenditures — to the Federal Election Commission.