U.S. top court rejects challenge to political ad disclosure rules

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By Andrew Chung

<span class="articleLocation”>Feb 27 The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld
federal disclosure rules for political advertising, rejecting an
appeal by a Denver-based libertarian think tank that wanted to
run an ad without being forced to divulge its major donors.

The Denver-based Independence Institute sued the Federal
Election Commission, arguing the law requiring such disclosure
violated its free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution’s
First Amendment. The Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s
ruling last year in favor of the commission.

It was the latest in a decade-long series of cases brought
by conservatives aiming to roll back federal campaign finance
restrictions.

The Independence Institute was supported in the case by
influential Republican and conservative voices including
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Judicial Watch legal activist group as well as the U.S. Chamber
of Commerce business group.

The institute, ahead of the 2014 congressional elections,
had sought to run a radio advertisement about increasing prison
costs, telling listeners to urge their Colorado U.S. senators to
support sentencing reform.

Because the ad mentioned a senator by name in the lead up to
an election, it triggered a provision in the 2002 campaign
finance statute known as the McCain-Feingold law requiring the
institute to file with the election commission and disclose any
donors supporting the ad.

The law was enacted to combat an explosion of what is known
as “soft money” in campaigns through so-called sham issue
advertisements, which cloaked partisan advocacy in discussions
of public policy.

Though the Supreme Court allowed unlimited campaign spending
by corporations and unions in its landmark 2010 decision in the
Citizens United v Federal Election Commission case, the court
also upheld disclosure requirements for campaign ads.

The Federal Election Commission said that for more than a
century federal law has required organizations that influence
elections to disclose information about their funding sources, a
principle upheld in the Citizens United ruling.

The Independence Institute sued in federal court in
Washington in a bid to keep the names of its donors secret,
arguing that its proposed ad focused on the sentencing reforms
that senators were considering, not any senator’s re-election
campaign.

Last October, a three-judge panel of the federal court ruled
against the group, saying it would be impossible to distinguish
genuine issue ads that reference candidates from campaign-style
ads that openly promote or disparage a candidate.



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