Groups funding political ads don’t have to disclose those expenditures unless they advocate voting for or against a particular candidate, the Louisiana Board of Ethics decided Friday.
Neither would they have to disclose the source of the money received for a particular ad based on the new advisory opinion.
The opinion comes as the 2015 election season gets ready to step into high gear with the governor and other statewide elected offices as well as legislative seats on the ballot. It means more election spending will be off-limits from disclosure.
The board decision came in response to an advisory opinion sought by The Center for Individual Freedom. The board opinion aligns with recent court rulings but clearly did not sit well with some Ethics Board members who favor disclosure of the outside election spending and its source — sometimes referred to as “dark money.”
“It’s a brave new world out there, what you can and cannot do as far as elections go. With this and the super PAC decision, it’s a brave new world,” Ethics Board Chairman Blake Monrose said.
Monrose referred to court rulings that deemed unconstitutional contribution limits to political action committees that support or oppose candidates independent of campaigns. In Louisiana, a super PAC formed to support Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s bid for governor — the Fund for Louisiana’s Future — successfully challenged the contribution limit in Louisiana. That opened the door for unlimited contributions.
“I think we are going to be seeing a whole lot more of it. Whether you like it or not, it is what it is,” said Monrose, a Lafayette lawyer.
Ethics Board member Peppi Bruneau, of New Orleans, said that based on the new legal standard, groups can pretty much do what they want to do in elections.
“You can have an independent group run an ad totally positive, totally negative as long as it doesn’t say vote for so and so and against so and so,” Bruneau said.
The Center for Individual Freedom is a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to protect and defend individual rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.” It often speaks publicly leading up to elections, focusing attention on issues that warrant the public’s attention and mentions candidates in conjunction with those public pronouncements.
“CFIF engages in this form of issue speech only if it can confidently ascertain that its speech will not be subject to unduly burdensome government regulation,” wrote Thomas Kirby, the Center’s Washington, D.C., attorney.
Kirby sought assurance from the board that the advertising the center was contemplating would not trigger reporting requirements of the Campaign Finance Disclosure Act. The group’s attorney provided eight examples of specific ads for the Ethics Board to look at based on a recent federal court decision involving the center and the Ethics Board.
The center sued the Ethics Board in 2004, arguing the campaign finance law was unconstitutionally vague. Specifically, the group argued that the law’s definition of “expenditure” was vague and should be struck down or narrowed to provide “a precise, objective standard.” Recently, the federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals declined to strike down the law but instead provided guidance in determining when reporting requirements would be triggered. The court used the U.S. Supreme Court requirement of “explicit” or “magic” words such as “vote for,” “elect” or “support.”
None of the examples the center provided to the Ethics Board included language urging people to vote for or against a candidate.