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Court Allows Exposing Wealthy Hidden Political Donors

In an interesting and significant ruling today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit dismissed Citizens United’s lawsuit against New York State’s law that requires disclosure to the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau of the largest donors to non-profits.

There has been no end to the hand-wringing over the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United vs Federal Election Committee regarding campaign funding. That Supreme Court ruling in favor of the suit filed by the conservative organization Citizens United freed corporations and wealthy individuals to spend unlimited amounts of money influencing political races by funneling it secretly through nonprofit groups like Citizens United. The  fight was that the FEC had ruled Citizens United could not air a film that was a hit piece on Hilary Clinton just days before the 2008 election because it was nothing more than a 90-minute political advertisement without the required transparency of who paid for the film/advertisement. Citizens United appealed to the Supreme Court and won, which opened the door to a flood of unidentified political contributions. The basis for allowing the ravaging of the blueprint for democracy created by America’s Founding Fathers was that the FEC rules impinged on free speech. Even though free speech is generally perceived as the right of an individual, the ruling implied that corporations and organizations are people too and as such, they have the same rights as individuals. The biggest winners of the ruling were the conservative political schemers the Koch brothers, who immediately put millions into the coffers of Tea Party candidates for the 2010 midterm elections. The flood of Tea Party winners in Congress brought with them acrimony, polarization, and gridlock.   By funneling millions of dollars in political contributions through organizations like Citizens United the Koch brothers were able to hide behind the curtain and manipulate elections across the entire country.

Taking a page from the prohibition era strategy that took down famous gangster Al Capone for tax evasion, NY State Attorney General Schneidermann avoided the free speech issue and demanded Citizens United disclose their donors in accourdance with NY’s law on nonprofits. This would pull back the curtain on where all the money came from and who it was going, allowing the public to see what politicians were being bought and by whome. Citizens United sued again only this time they lost.

The Second Circuit ruled:

“We find that the mere requirement on a tax-exempt organization to disclose its donor list to a state’s authority charged with 7 regulating non‐profits does not impermissibly chill speech or assembly rights. Nor does it operate as a prior restraint on non‐profits’ solicitation of donations. Finding all of Appellants’ claims to be without merit, we AFFIRM the dismissal of all claims.”

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman released the following statement, after The U.S. Court of App the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit dismissed Citizens United’s lawsuit against New York State’s law that requires disclosure to the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau of the largest donors to non-profits:

“Today’s ruling affirms that Citizens United can no longer shroud its biggest donors in secrecy. State law demands that organizations like Citizens United disclose their biggest donors to regulators so they can police fraud and abuse in the non-profit sector. We are pleased the court agreed with our position and rejected Citizen Union’s incorrect First Amendment and Due Process claims. Today’s ruling is a victory for all those who believe in fairness across this vital sector of New York’s economy.”

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Jamie Moses

Jamie Moses founded Artvoice in 1990

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