Donors giving spending a specific amount of money on “issue ads” will no longer be able to keep their identity confidential as the result of new enforcement action by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The FED has announced that it will enforce donor disclosure rules
for some nonprofits based upon a recent court ruling, forcing organizations to reveal their contributors.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman ruled in favor of Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) on March 30 on the issue of donor disclosure. Van Hollen had charged that the FEC was in the wrong when it issued a ruling in 2007 that allowed groups producing issue ads — which name specific candidates but stop short of telling viewers to vote for or against them — to withhold the names of the donors who funded them.
In the four months since that ruling, the FEC released public guidance explaining how it would enforce the ruling. The release said that, retroactive to March 30, groups spending more than $10,000 in issue ads weeks before an election will be required to disclose donors who gave more than $1,000 toward the communications.
The FEC also stated it would comply with the court’s interpretation of the words “contributor,” “donor” and “donation” in the following ways:
- “[‘Contributor’] applies to all contributors regardless of their subjective purpose in contributing.”
- A “contributor” is “a person who gives money without expectation of service or property or legal right in return.”
- “Dues paid in return for the benefits of membership” are not “donations.”
- “[I]nvestors who pay for shares of stock” are not “donors.”
- “[C]ustomers who pay for goods and services” are not “donors.”
There is a possibility that groups that violate the FEC’s guidelines will not face punishment until after the November election. This was the case in 2004, when newly formed groups advocating against then-President George W. Bush collected unlimited donations. They were not fined until years after Bush was re-elected.