Following CREW’s letter opposing the change, the proposal failed to move forward at the FEC by a 3-3 vote. Several commissioners thanked commenters for their helpful legal research.

In a letter sent on May 14, 2024, to the FEC, CREW submitted its opposition to a proposal by Chair Allen Dickerson that could perpetually deprive Americans’ of insight into massive contributions from large donors to powerful officials through secret proceedings.

Dickerson’s proposal does that by massively expanding a previously limited exception to disclosure requirements for minor parties and small donors who have faced real threats of violence. Under the guise of standardizing the FEC’s process for granting those exceptions, Chairman Dickerson’s proposal would lead to a secret process that would do away with most of those limitations and allow for anyone or any group to get a perpetual exemption that would allow them to hide key information from the public. Such an action would benefit wealthy donors who engage in political activity through large financial contributions, and shield them from the criticism they receive from less powerful citizens.

Additionally, moving forward with this proposal violates the First Amendment. Removing these limitations denies the public access to information about who is financing our elections. As Justice Scalia once wrote, “[H]arsh criticism . . . is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self-governance.” The criticism some donors may face in response to disclosure of their donations is not a reason to deprive millions of Americans of their First Amendment rights.

The regrettable unlawful actions of a tiny minority cannot justify that deprivation. The solution to those who use violence is the enforcement of our laws against violence, not leaving  millions of Americans in the dark about who is funding their elections and pre-emptively preventing legitimate criticism. Moreover, it is clear that some  groups wrongly equate any criticism or disagreement to unlawful harassment. But the desire to shield  themselves, their donors or the candidates they support from criticism cannot justify suppressing others’ speech.

By removing these barriers, the FEC would enable secret money to further infiltrate our electoral system while censoring those who oppose them by depriving them of the facts needed for effective criticism. CREW urges the FEC to reject this proposal and not work in secret to protect groups seeking to avoid accountability by hiding their donors and silencing critics who may speak out against them.

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