The DISCLOSE Act would have mandated disclosure of most campaign spending. Having failed to achieve that through Congress, Chris Van Hollen is attempting to force the FEC to make certain rules to that effect through a lawsuit. This comes days after a leaked draft executive order which would also force disclosure on campaign spending by government contractors. In the lawsuit, Van Hollen and his allies try to use the Citizens United ruling to their benefit.
The lawsuit argues that concealing the identity of donors is contrary to the law and the court’s ruling.
Reformers point to the Supreme Court decision last year in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. In ruling that these funds could legally go to independent groups, the majority opinion noted: “With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable.”
The lawsuit filed in federal district court in Washington challenges a FEC regulation adopted in 2007 as illegal because it conflicted with existing law. The suit argues that language in the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act, passed by Congress in 2002, required disclosure of donations of $1,000 or more if the donations were made for the purpose of furthering “electioneering communications.”
A separate rule-making petition filed by Van Hollen’s group asks the FEC to revise a regulation that “improperly allowed nonprofit groups to keep secret the donors” whose funds were being used to pay for so-called independent expenditures in federal elections.
Basically, the suit argues that the FEC illegally trampled on McCain-Feingold’s disclosure requirements in 2007, and seeks remedy through the courts.
Nothing moves that fast in the courts, so this may not get ruled in time for the 2012 election cycle. However, an executive order would have a more immediate force of law, and a court could rule for disclosure immediately while the case moved through the appeals process.
The Chamber of Commerce cried foul about the executive order on disclosure by government contractors, saying it could lead to political discrimination against companies who contribute to candidate counter to the government in power. It’s all conspiracy theories with these people. Also I wasn’t aware that government contractors had an inalienable right to contract with the government.
Van Hollen’s lawsuit would have an arguably wider consequence, because it seeks to unveil all secret campaign spending by business associations and nonprofit groups, not just that by government contractors. However, so many businesses get contracts with the government that the executive order could have a very big impact. But while the executive order aims for disclosure by the businesses themselves, the Van Hollen suit seeks disclosure by the secret groups created by those businesses for the purposes of funneling campaign contributions.