WASHINGTON (CN) – The Federal Election Commission overstepped its authority when it allowed groups sponsoring election advertisements to shield donors’ identities, a federal judge ruled.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., took issue with revisions that the FEC made to its disclosure requirements in 2007 amid several court rulings on the issue, culminating in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 resolution of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commision. In an April 2011 lawsuit, he claimed the revisions frustrated the intent of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act by creating a major loophole in election-related financial disclosure.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson granted summary judgment last week to Hollen, saying the agency’s action was both a breach of statutory authority and was arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of its discretion.
Hollen, who is up for re-election this year, had claimed that the regulations would harm his campaign by shielding those who make statements against him.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the case “presents what appears to be the novel question of whether an agency may promulgate regulations that narrow a statutory provision for the stated purpose of curing a perceived ambiguity or change in the statute’s reach that was created by new legal precedent.”
In the end, she ruled that Congress “did not delegate authority to the FEC to narrow the disclosure requirement through agency rulemaking, and that a change in the reach of the statute brought about by a Supreme Court ruling did not render plain language, which is broad enough to cover the new circumstance, to be ambiguous.”
“The agency cannot unilaterally decide to take on a quintessentially legislative function; if sound policy suggests that the statute needs tailoring in the wake of WRTL or Citizens United, it is up to Congress to do it,” she added, abbreviating the caption of FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life, a 2007 Supreme Court decision.
Van Hollen called the ruling “good news for our democracy and for voters.”
“This victory will compel the FEC to require more enhanced disclosures of the funders of campaign-related advertisements,” he said in a statement.