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Court denies preliminary injunction in challenge to contributor disclosure requirements (21-1373) – FEC.gov

On March 22, 2022, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin denied Wisconsin Family Action’s (WFA) motion to prevent the Commission from enforcing the Act’s contributor disclosure requirements for persons whose independent expenditures exceed $250 per calendar year.

Background

Under the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) and Commission regulations, “contribution” is defined as a gift of anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for federal office. An “independent expenditure” is an expenditure by a person for a communication that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate and that is not coordinated with a federal candidate or political party.

Sections 30104(c)(1) and (2) of the Act require reporting by persons other than political committees whose independent expenditures aggregate in excess of $250 in a calendar year. They must identify each person from whom they received contributions of more than $200 within a calendar year.

On December 2, 2021, WFA a 501(c)(4) non-profit, non-stock corporation filed a complaint alleging that the Commission unlawfully expanded contributor disclosure requirements in its interpretation of Section 30104(c) after the D.C. Circuit’s decision in CREW v. FEC. WFA argued that the requirements are overbroad and violate its First Amendment rights. WFA sought an injunction to prevent the FEC from enforcing Section 30104(c) to the extent that it requires disclosure of contributions not earmarked for specific independent expenditures.

District Court decision

The court declined to issue a preliminary injunction, though it recognized that the First Amendment interests of WFA and the contributors at issue are substantial. The court explained that the FEC’s position would not require WFA to disclose all donors simply because it made independent expenditures aggregating more than $250. Rather, WFA would be required to disclose only those donors whose contributions are earmarked for political purposes and intended to influence federal elections.

The court held that, under that standard, WFA failed to show that it would suffer irreparable harm. To the extent WFA’s future conduct might create an additional disclosure obligation, the court concluded that WFA might be better served by utilizing the Commission’s advisory opinion process to provide assurance that its donors’ identities would not be disclosed.

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