Judge Invalidates FEC Regulation ‘Dark Money’ Donors Can Remain Anonymous

E. Barrett Prettyman United States Court House, which houses U.S. District Court for District of Columbia.

In the case of Citizens For Responsibility And Ethics In Washington, et al., v Federal Election Commission and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies DC’s U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell issued a ruling Friday striking down the FEC’s rule which allowed donors contributing to non-profits for political causes anonymously, often times referred to as “dark money,” saying it goes beyond Congress’ intent, ruling those donors may not remain anonymous, Politico reports.

FEC’s current regulation of such groups, including 501(c)4 non-profits, fails to uphold the standard Congress intended when it required the disclosure of politically related spending.


In her ruling, Judge Howell writes: 

“The challenged regulation facilitates such financial ‘routing,’ blatantly undercuts the congressional goal of fully disclosing the sources of money flowing into federal political campaigns, and thereby suppresses the benefits intended to accrue from disclosure …,”

Judge Howell Ruling PDF pg. 112 

Politico notes the ruling ends a years long case after the Citizens For Responsibility And Ethics In Washington (CREW) sued both the FEC and Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS – a spin-off of Rove’s Grassroots super PAC – who “failed to disclose the names of contributors behind its $6 million effort to defeat Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in his 2012 race” after the FEC voted to dismiss CREW’s complaint to investigate Crossroads GPS.

CREW’s Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement, “This ruling looks like a major game changer.” Bookbinder believes that based on the ruling the public should learn more about who is donating 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.” 

In a statement issued by former FEC Commissioner Ann Ravel, the publication further noted, Ravel “heralded the ruling as “groundbreaking” and one that addressed the concerns she and the current commissioner Ellen Weintraub, both Democrats, had when they voted to investigate Rove’s group, but were overruled in a vote.”

If the ruling stands, it could mean dark money groups would have to identify contributors donating $200 or more to non-profits efforts attempting to influence federal elections, but Rove’s Crossroads GPS could appeal. The FEC would have to vote unanimously to appeal since two seats are still vacant.

In the meantime the FEC was given 45 days to issue a provisional rule that would follow the ruling for the standards as well as 30 days consider reversing it’s earlier vote to dismiss CREW’s original complaint.

Why It Matters 

Congress writes laws. That is in the constitution. But what Congresses have done for far too long is abdicate their duties and punted off their responsibilities to bureaucratic departments of unelected ‘officials’ completely underming the process.

We have campaign finance laws written by congress on the books. But instead of following procedure and congress putting their measures to a vote and allow them to either pass or fail on merit they abdicate their duties to circumvent the process and ‘rule’ by regulation. Bureaucratic rules and regulations are not laws, and in this case, as the judge issued, the FEC overstepped its bounds because campaign finance laws exist for a reason.

Now, here’s another reason this matters. It is this writer’s opinion on this news this administration and their appointed bureaucrats knew the FEC at that time were out of bounds and had a pretty good indication how this case was going to go, so in a move to circumvent the process yet again on July 18th of this year the IRS and Treasury issued a new ‘rule’ they’re no longer going to require names of donors on tax forms on contributions over $5000, including 501c4’s, which is the tax LAW.

According to campaign finance tax laws for the IRS 501c4’s include all non-profits, groups like PP, activist groups, veterans groups, unions, and the NRA, and while 501c4’s are allowed to receive money donations for political reasons they can only do so as long as their primary function is not political.

This announcement by the Treasury and IRS was largely overshadowed by another announcement that day. The DOJ announced that same morning the arrest of Maria Butina who was charged with conspiracy to act as a foreign agent of the Russian Federation operating in the U.S.

This is going to be one to watch to see what effect, if any, Friday’s ruling from Judge Howell has on this new IRS/Treasury ‘rule’ and or vis versa, while the implication of this perfectly timed coincidence is left out there to be inferred as one more ‘dark’ cloud hanging over this administration’s heads.

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