Justices Back Ruling Against Dark Money Donations

WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed a federal judge’s decision requiring more disclosure from super PACs to go into effect, overruling an earlier move by Chief Justice John Roberts to block the lower court order.

Roberts over the weekend granted a stay pending appeal to Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, a conservative political action committee that has been embroiled in a lengthy legal battle with open government group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, abbreviated as CREW.

CREW filed an administrative complaint with the Federal Election Commission in 2012 after news outlets reported on comments Republican political operative Karl Rove made at an event for American Crossroads, a super PAC tied to Crossroads GPS.

Rove, an adviser to Crossroads GPS, told the audience at the event that an out-of-state donor was pledging $3 million in a “matching challenge” to contribute to the group’s efforts supporting Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel in his unsuccessful bid against Democrat Sherrod Brown in the 2012 election for a U.S. Senate seat in Ohio. The group raised an additional $1.3 million as a result of the matching challenge and spent $6.3 million in the race against Brown.

CREW claimed Crossroads GPS skirted campaign finance laws by not disclosing the name of Rove’s anonymous donor or of people who contributed to the matching challenge.

The FEC denied CREW’s administrative complaint and CREW sued the commission in 2016, claiming it was ignoring Congress’ mandate with the regulation that allowed Crossroads GPS to keep its donors secret.

U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell in Washington, D.C., agreed with CREW in August, granting the group summary judgment and striking down an FEC regulation that allowed political groups to not disclose their donors unless the donors met certain conditions.

Crossroads GPS, which intervened in CREW’s case against the FEC, appealed and asked both the D.C. Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court to stay Howell’s decision pending that appeal.

Chief Justice Roberts initially granted the stay Saturday, but referred the decision to the full court. In a single-page order Tuesday, the justices reversed Roberts’ earlier decision, allowing Howell’s ruling to go into effect.

CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder hailed the decision in a statement Tuesday.

“This is a great day for transparency and democracy,” Bookbinder said in the statement. “Three courts, including the Supreme Court, have now rejected Crossroads’ arguments for a stay, meaning we’re about to know a lot more about who is funding our elections.”

Thomas Kirby, an attorney with the Washington D.C. firm Wiley Rein representing Crossroads GPS, did not respond to a request for comment sent Tuesday evening.

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