Judge turns down secrecy bid from Super PAC donor

- Maret 23, 2018

A judge has rejected a mystery conservative donor’s legal bid to maintain the secrecy surrounding $1.7 million donated to a Super PAC that was active on behalf of Republican candidates in the 2012 election.

In a ruling on Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson dismissed a lawsuit filed last December aimed at blocking disclosure of information in Federal Election Commission records about the activities of the Now or Never PAC, which spent a total of about $8 million backing candidates such as Todd Akin, a Senate nominee in Missouri.

A trust and trustee involved in funneling $1.7 million to the PAC argued in the suit that disclosure of their identities would invade their privacy. It appears that they are legally distinct from the original source of the funds, but it’s possible that naming the trust and trustee could effectively identify the donor.

Jackson, an appointee of President Barack Obama, said in her 23-page decision that the FEC was not legally barred from disclosing the identities of the trust and trustee. However, she also held that the agency was not legally obligated to release the information under a statute that the agency’s lawyers cited.

Under those circumstances, the FEC’s decision to disclose the information was reasonable, the judge wrote.

“The public has an interest in the agency’s decision to terminate this proceeding involving Government Integrity without enforcing its own subpoenas and following the money back to its source,” Jackson found. “The agency’s salutary interest in exposing its decision making to public scrutiny outweighs plaintiffs’ insubstantial privacy concerns.”


The judge also said those who brought the suit — named in public court papers as John Doe 1 and 2 — hadn’t shown any impact on their right to make political donations.

“Even if one concludes that at least one plaintiff has asserted an interest in preventing the chilling of future speech in the form of donations, the only right that is implicated by the agency’s actions in this case is the right to contribute anonymously, not the right to contribute at all,” Jackson wrote.

There is no right to make anonymous political donations in most situations, she concluded, citing the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling.

An attorney for the anonymous trust and trustee who brought the suit, William Taylor, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

While the litigation was pending, the FEC released a variety of documents related to the case, but withheld the identities of the individual and the trust who filed suit.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which brought the original complaint against the Super PAC, filed its own suit against the FEC in December, charging that the agency’s violated its legal duties when it failed to take action in the case.


 

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