Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

"For sale"

"Based on this ruling," said CREW's Noah Bookbinder, "the public should know a whole lot more about who is giving 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." (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian/flickr/cc)

'Major Victory': Federal Judge Issues Game-Changing Ruling on Dark Money

The ruling is poised "to bring much more transparency to our elections"

Andrea Germanos

An ethics watchdog has claimed a "major court victory" after a federal judge issued a ruling invalidating a Federal Election Commission (FEC) regulation that allowed contributors to so-called dark money organizations avoid disclosure.

"This ruling looks like a major game changer," said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). "Based on this ruling, the public should know a whole lot more about who is giving 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."

CREW was a plaintiff in the case, and had challenged in 2012 Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS—a "not-political committee"—over its failure to disclose who donated $6 million in the Ohio Senate race, a sum CREW argued was subject to federal reporting requirements.

U.S. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell found that Crossroads GPS's defense didn't hold water, writing Friday that the three-decade old FEC regulation at question fell short "of the broad disclosure that Congress intended."

The challenged regulation, she concluded, can facilitate groups' "routing" of contributions to candidates or the groups' affiliated super PACS, and

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, including informing the electorate, deterring corruption, and enforcing bans on foreign contributions being used to buy access and influence to American political officials.

Her decision, CREW explains, means that "dark money groups that spend at least $250 in independent expenditures—a key type of political ad—must report every contributor who gave at least $200 in the past year as well as those who give to finance independent expenditures generally."

In a Twitter thread outlining the importance of ruling, Center for Responsive Politics' Robert Maguire says it "could fundamentally change the role dark money plays in elections (if it has a role at all)."

Bookbinder agreed, saying it "could dramatically change the American political landscape and result in significantly more transparency."

"Major donors are now on notice that if they contribute to politically active 501(c)(4) organizations, their contributions will have to be disclosed," he said, "and if they are not, CREW will pursue enforcement cases with the FEC and, if necessary, in court."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Biden's Student Debt Relief to Cost a Fraction of US Giveaways to the Megarich and Pentagon

"In contrast to President Trump and Republicans who gave giant corporations $2 trillion in tax breaks, President Biden delivered transformative middle-class relief," said two senators.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Climate Change Is the Asteroid,' Say Critics of NASA Earth Defense Mission

"The actual clear and present danger to humanity is of course Earth breakdown from burning fossil fuels," said one NASA climate scientist.

Brett Wilkins ·


After Nearly a Decade in Exile, Snowden Granted Russian Citizenship

While the whistleblower said "a little stability" would benefit his family, one digital rights advocate noted that "if the Biden administration dropped the charges against Snowden, Putin wouldn't be able to use him for a PR stunt."

Jessica Corbett ·


Peace Group Urges US and China to Halt 'Blatantly Provocative' Military Maneuvers

The co-chairs of the Committee for a SANE U.S.-China Policy called on American and Chinese leaders to "immediately take unilateral and bilateral steps to reduce the risk of an accidental or unintended clash."

Brett Wilkins ·


In 'Unprecedented Democratic Exercise,' Cubans Approve Inclusive Family Code

"This is a milestone in the advancement of democracy," said global grassroots coalition Progressive International. "Nowhere in the world has a family law been submitted for public consultation and subject to a referendum."

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo