WASHINGTON (CN) — A federal judge revived a political watchdog’s request to make a super PAC founded by Karl Rove disclose the identity of its donors.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and Ohio voter Nicholas Mezlak sought the disclosure regarding Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, which contributed at least $17 million to multiple U.S. Senate races during the 2012 election.
CREW, as the group is known, brought its complaint in late 2012, saying Crossroads GPS failed to make the requisite disclosures for some of its independent expenditures arising out of a $3 million anonymous matching challenge at a fundraiser in Tampa, Florida, as required by the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971.
During the Tampa fundraiser, which was attended by 70 high-earning donors such as hedge fund billionaires and investors, Republican policy consultant Karl Rove reportedly received a phone call from an unnamed donor about the Ohio Senate race between incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown and his challenger, Josh Mandel.
Rove – who briefed the attendees on 15 active Senate races and played television ads targeting Democratic Senate candidates in six states – spoke with the anonymous donor, who ultimately contributed more than $3 million to Crossroads GPS. The matching challenge generated an additional $1.3 million.
Rove told news outlets that although he did not discuss with the donor the details of how the $4.3 million would be spent, he understood the contribution to be intended to support the election of Mandel, who eventually lost the race.
FECA requires a disclosure detailing the identity of contributors donating more than $200 that is then used by an organization for an independent expenditure in excess of $250.
The Federal Election Commission and Crossroads GPS responded to CREW’s request by claiming that during Rove’s conversation with the anonymous donor, they did not discuss any particular independent expenditure and that during the Tampa fundraiser, donations were made on behalf of American Crossroads, the umbrella organization for Crossroads GPS. Crossroads GPS also claimed the donations could not have flowed toward the ads that were shown because they had been produced and aired before the donations were made.
The FEC requires a two-thirds majority of its six commissioners to agree on whether there was reason to believe Crossroads GPS violated the disclosure requirements, but a three-to-three deadlock ended the possibility of an investigation into CREW’s complaint.
U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell ruled on Wednesday that the FEC should take a second look.
In her 22-page memorandum, she says the plaintiffs have standing to demand disclosure because “they were denied access to information to which they were lawfully entitled about who funded certain of Crossroads GPS’s independent expenditures.”
The FEC, CREW and Crossroads GPS did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision.
Howell gave the parties until April 14 to submit a schedule to govern further proceedings.