U.S. Supreme Court to Colorado think tank: Disclose your donors or don’t run these ads

The Colorado Independent: The nation’s highest court on Monday upheld a lower court’s money-in-politics ruling in a case out of Colorado that requires groups to disclose who pays for ads that mention candidates during election season.

The decision is a setback for those hoping to chip away at certain disclosure requirements for paid political speech.

The case stems from 2014 when the Colorado-based libertarian Independence Institute sued the Federal Election Commission. The nonprofit think tank— its motto: Think Freedom— wanted to run radio ads supporting a federal law that would give judges more discretion in sentencing nonviolent offenders. That was all well and good, but at the end of the ad, a speaker would implore listeners to call Democratic U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet.

At the time, Udall was up for re-election; Bennet was not. But the group also said it wanted to run similar ads when Bennet would be up for reelection in 2016. They are known as “issues ads,” which do not expressly advocate for or against a candidate.

Because of the looming election, and because the ad would air within 60 days of it in a place where voters paying attention to the race would likely hear it, the Federal Election Commission would have barred the Independence Institute from putting the ad on the airwaves without disclosing who paid for it. To avoid that disclosure, the group sued the FEC in federal court, saying the agency was infringing on its free speech rights.

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