The Supreme Court has signaled that it will not hear a challenge to the constitutionality of a Mississippi campaign finance law which requires individuals and groups spending at least $200 on ballot measures to disclose their identities.
In doing so, the Court left in place an appeals court ruling which upheld the law over the plaintiffs' complaints that it was too burdensome. While $200 seems like a small threshold to overcome, the Court's decision reaffirms the importance of disclosure in campaign finance law.
Arguments about whether or not individuals and groups should be required to disclose political contributions has been an ongoing issue since the 1970s, Slate reports. A major argument against disclosure requirements is that they infringe on First Amendment rights, which was recognized by the Supreme Court in the 1976 case Buckley v. Valeo, in which the Court struck down several provisions of the strict campaign finance law passed in 1974.
However, during that ruling, the Court also upheld the importance of disclosure requirements voting public and to the integrity of the overall campaign finance framework in that case. The Court held that disclosure requirements are able to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption, that they provide valuable information about elections and ballot measure to voters, and that they help to reinforce other campaign finance laws -- such as limiting the flow of foreign money into elections.
Since then, the Court has consistently struck down caps on campaign spending but has also upheld disclosure requirements both rhetorically and in practice. The late conservative justice Antonin Scalia was an ardent supporter of disclosure laws, arguing that "[r]equiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed," according to Slate.
The principle behind the laws is sound: Voters deserve the right to know who is and isn't pushing political policies. It's important that Americans can go into an election year with the knowledge they need to make an informed decision and be able to look behind the curtain to see who is really calling the shots in Washington.
While many are still waiting for Congress to close some of the loopholes in the campaign finance system, every reaffirmation of the importance of disclosure requirements by the Supreme Court counts.