The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday correctly struck a blow for transparency in campaign finance, letting stand a trial court judge’s ruling requiring some nonprofit groups to disclose donors’ names. The court’s order, issued without comment and without listing any dissenting votes, overturned a stay issued Saturday by Chief Justice John Roberts.
The ruling allows these groups to continue spending unlimited amounts of money on political ads. It just means they must reveal who gave them the money.
The case started six years ago when Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a campaign-finance-reform group, filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission alleging the conservative group Crossroads GPS was violating federal law by keeping donors secret. The FEC deadlocked on whether to investigate, so CREW sued the FEC. Last month, Beryl Howell, chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., ordered nonprofit groups to disclose their donors’ identities. Crossroads GPS is appealing, arguing that disclosure will have a “chilling effect” on free speech.
The president of a group advocating campaign finance deregulation predicted some groups would choose “silence rather than speech” to avoid upsetting donors who thought they would remain anonymous.
If the First Amendment means we must allow interest groups to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence voters — as the Supreme Court has ruled — then voters should know where that money came from so they can evaluate the messages it pays for. In other words, donors should have to put their names where their money is.