Judge: FEC improperly narrowed disclosure rules

AP News
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Posted: Nov 25, 2014 5:59 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Election Commission impermissibly narrowed disclosure requirements for corporations and labor organizations that finance electioneering communications, the political ads that run close to an election, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

In setting aside an FEC regulation, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the commission initiated a rulemaking in response to a Supreme Court decision, but that nothing in the Supreme Court case amounted to a basis for the FEC to narrow the disclosure rules Congress had enacted. She said the FEC regulation was arbitrary, capricious and contrary to law.

Jackson said there was little or nothing in the administrative record that would support the FEC's decision to introduce a limit into the broad disclosure rules in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

"Congress passed the disclosure provisions of the BCRA to promote transparency and to ensure that members of the public would be aware of who was trying to influence their votes just before an election," Jackson wrote.

She said the regulation creates "an easily exploited loophole that allows the true sponsors of advertisements to hide behind dubious and misleading names."

The judge's decision came in a lawsuit over electioneering communications in congressional campaigns — the broadcasts, cable or satellite communications distributed shortly before an election that refer to a clearly identified candidate for office.

The decision was issued in a lawsuit brought in 2011 by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

The FEC through flawed regulations facilitated the flow of so-called dark money into federal elections, said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, which tracks political money in elections. Wertheimer worked on the case with Van Hollen.