Disclosure Rules for Political Groups Allowed by Top U.S. Court

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to relax the disclosure requirements for groups that spend money to influence federal elections, as the justices turned away an appeal from anti-tax and libertarian activists.

Acting the day before the congressional elections, the high court let stand a ruling requiring SpeechNow.org to comply with the federal rules that govern so-called political committees. SpeechNow is a free-speech group founded by officials from the anti-tax Club for Growth and the libertarian Cato Institute.

SpeechNow’s backers, led by David Keating, argued unsuccessfully that those rules violated the First Amendment and that the group should have to comply only with the less stringent disclosure requirements that apply to other organizations.

A U.S. appeals court disagreed in a 9-0 decision, upholding the Federal Election Commission’s classification of SpeechNow as a political committee. The lower court said the additional requirements, including one mandating the disclosure of contributions for administrative expenses, served important interests.

“Requiring disclosure of such information deters and helps expose violations of other campaign finance restrictions, such as those barring contributions from foreign corporations or individuals,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said.

The Supreme Court has allowed disclosure requirements even while striking down restrictions on political spending by corporations and independent groups.

Keating’s appeal contended that political groups should be exempt from the political-committee requirements when they make only independent expenditures -- those that aren’t coordinated with a campaign. Keating argued that the appeals court ruling will “chill speech that this court has long sought to protect.”

The Obama administration urged the Supreme Court not to hear the case, saying the lower court reached the right conclusion on that issue.

FEC rules require groups to register as political committees if their “major purpose” involves federal campaigns.

The case is Keating v. Federal Election Commission, 10-145.