Chief Justice John Roberts made what many people interpreted as a brazenly political move on Saturday when he issued an order temporarily halting a lower court’s ruling that invalidated a Federal Election Commission regulation that has allowed donors to so-called dark-money groups to remain anonymous.
Roberts’ action came just hours after a three-judge D.C. Circuit Court panel rejected the arguments of the plaintiffs in the case, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, for an emergency stay of the lower court ruling, according to an account of the case on Politico.
The conservative group had argued that the ruling—originally issued by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell in August—threatened to discourage independent expenditures by raising the prospect that anonymous donors could be exposed.
The decision in that ruling was the outcome of a lawsuit filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington against the Federal Election Commission after Crossroads GPS declined to disclose the names of contributors to its campaign to defeat Democratic Senator. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in 2012.
The original ruling by Judge Howell was set to go into effect on September 17th before Chief Justice Roberts’ temporary halt to the order. Now, it’s uncertain whether the matter will be referred to the full Supreme Court to determine the final fate of the suit before the decision will affect the financing rules for the midterm elections.
According to Politico:
“FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub on Saturday promoted the news of the D.C. Circuit’s decision to deny Crossroads’ emergency stay appeal. But following Roberts’ granting of the group’s request, she quipped on Twitter: ‘Nice while it lasted.’”
“Attorney Robert Kelner described the D.C. Circuit’s denial of the stay as a “significant decision’ on Twitter.”
“’This case isn’t getting a lot of attention,’ Kelner wrote in another post. ‘But it’s potentially consequential for outside groups (not FEC registered) running election related ads. It impacts how they raise funds right now. Past fundraising may impact future reporting, including donor disclosure.'”
With the American campaign finance system corrupted by the unlimited amount of corporate donations allowed by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that declared that corporations have the same free speech rights as people, the idea that money equals speech has given the business world and its wealthy oligarchs an outsized voice in the U.S. electoral system and has forced politicians to spend as much or more time to raise funds for their re-elections as they do on governing.
With Chief Justice Roberts now issuing a ruling that enables even less transparency in determining who is paying for the ads on behalf of candidates and issues, the average citizens’ alienation from the political process continues as their voices are drowned out by millions of anonymous donations from shadowy ultra-wealthy individuals and organizations shielded from any association with the politics that they are purveying.
Rulings like this only make the passage of a constitutional amendment reversing the effects of the Citizens United decision all the more crucial. Make sure to vote in the midterms for candidates who support this vitally important measure.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.