CONTACT: Jordan Libowitz
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In a major defeat for secret money in politics, a judge ruled that dark money groups that spend at least $250 in independent expenditures—a key type of political ad—must report every contributor who gave at least $200 in the past year as well as those who give to finance independent expenditures generally, throwing out an illegal three decades old regulation that was used to avoid disclosure and changing the legal landscape for political spending.

The decision in Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, handed down late on Friday, declares that the law unambiguously commands more disclosure than the FEC has required in 30 years, restoring Congress’s intended full disclosure of those making contributions to groups that fund independent expenditures—ads that explicitly endorse or oppose a candidate for office.

“This ruling looks like a major game changer,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. “Based on this ruling , the public should know a whole lot more about who is giving money for the purpose of influencing an election, and it will be much harder for donors to anonymously contribute to groups that advertise in elections.”

The case stems from an FEC complaint filed by CREW in 2012 against Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS over its failure to disclose the donors behind $6 million in independent expenditures in the Ohio Senate race. Even though Rove told a gathering of contributors that a donor had said he really liked Republican candidate Josh Mandel and had made a $3 million “matching challenge” contribution, the FEC said the contributor’s name could stay secret because he did not earmark it to pay for a specific ad. The court yesterday invalidated the regulation that decision was based on, saying it interpreted the Federal Election Campaign Act much too narrowly.

“This ruling could dramatically change the American political landscape and result in significantly more transparency,” Bookbinder said. “Major donors are now  on notice that if they contribute to politically active 501(c)(4) organizations, their contributions will have to be disclosed, and if they are not, CREW will pursue enforcement cases with the FEC and, if necessary, in court.”