Federal Appellate Court Upholds District Court’s Invalidation of FEC Disclosure Regulation - State and Federal Communications

August 24, 2020  •  

Federal Appellate Court Upholds District Court’s Invalidation of FEC Disclosure Regulation

DC Court of Appeals - photo by AgnosticPreachersKid

On August 21, the federal D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2018 federal District Court ruling invalidating a federal campaign finance regulation limiting the disclosure requirements of organizations making independent expenditures.

On August 3, 2018, a federal district court had ruled a campaign finance disclosure regulation followed for decades by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) failed to uphold disclosure requirements required by a federal statute.

Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the United States District Court for The District of Columbia issued an order, in CREW v. FEC, vacating 11 C.F.R. §109.10(e)(1)(vi), but stayed the vacatur to give time for the FEC to issue interim regulations comporting with the statutory disclosure requirements of 52 U.S.C. §30104(c). The court also has allowed the FEC 30 days to change an earlier FEC dismissal to conform with the court’s ruling. The FEC has not yet replaced the rule.

The case originated because of independent expenditures made in a 2012 Ohio senate race by the non-political social-welfare nonprofit Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies (Crossroads GPS), an affiliate of the American Crossroads Super PAC. Crossroads GPS did not report donors when reporting its independent expenditures, while it acknowledged receiving contributions over $200, arguing the donors did not donate funds directly tied to any specific reported expenditure, as the FEC interpreted 11 C.F.R. §109.10(e)(1)(vi) to require.

Non-political committees making independent expenditures over $250 in a calendar year must comply with disclosure obligations closely analogous to those imposed on political committees.

The vacated regulation required the identification of each person who made a contribution in excess of $200 to the person filing a disclosure report, including for non-political 501(c)(4) non-profit entities making independent expenditures, if the contribution was made for the purpose of furthering the reported independent expenditure. The district court found the regulation, as construed and applied by the FEC, did not require the disclosure of donors, absent the donor’s express agreement that the funds be used for the specific expenditures reported to the FEC, even though the donor may otherwise support and in fact contribute for the purpose of funding those expenditures.

The district court had found the regulation impermissibly narrows the mandated disclosure in 52 U.S.C. §30104(c)(2)(C), which requires the identification of such donors contributing for the purpose of furthering the non-political committee’s own express advocacy for or against the election of a federal candidate, even when the donor has not expressly directed that the funds be used in the precise manner reported.

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