Appeals Court Moves Toward Identifying Donors

A ruling this week by a federal appeals court means non-profit groups running one type of political campaign ad will no longer be able to keep their donors secret. The appellate order, however, could be appealed.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK. So that's the budget money. Let's talk about political contributions. The laws governing political money have just become a little bit more convoluted. But this time, the new twist could actually mean more disclosure. We'd find out the names of the big donors who finance attack ads.

NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: A three-judge panel on an appeals court in Washington has taken a step toward peeling back one of the veils that shield big donors from disclosure. At issue is the category of TV spots called electioneering ads. They're often hit pieces that usually end with a line like: Call Senator Jones. Tell him to stop protecting the special interests.

Donors who pay for these ads get to remain anonymous. That's because the Federal Election Commission hasn't been enforcing a law - passed 10 years ago - that requires financial disclosure for electioneering ads that run during the heated, final weeks of a campaign.

A federal district court judge six weeks ago ordered the FEC to start enforcing that law. The ruling is on appeal, contested by two conservative groups. The two groups also tried to block enforcement. But this week, the three judges on the appeals court said no, the FEC should start enforcing the law while the appeal goes forward.

That appellate order itself could be appealed. Lawyers for the two groups didn't respond to queries yesterday. But right now, it seems that come autumn, when it's prime time for electioneering-ad attacks, the financiers of those types of ads will have to be disclosed.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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