Gavel

September 18, 2012; Source: Washington Post (AP)

Welcome to the most secretive and most moneyed election in American history, thanks to a decision yesterday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Remember our coverage of a U.S. District Court ruling this past spring about the Federal Election Commission overstepping its authority in allowing 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations to keep their donors secret? That was a case brought by Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). It seemed like it might be possible, if the ruling held, to stanch the flow of unrestricted secret money into “independent” election organizations.

But no, the Appeals Court said that the District Court’s argument – that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law was clear that requiring donors to these organizations to be identified not just for their specific support of attack ads, but for their donations of unrestricted moneys – was wrong. The Appeals Court ruled that the law was not at all clear on that point and that the FEC ruling to allow the sources of unrestricted funds to be kept secret was filling a gap in the law.

Making the situation worse was that two organizations, the Center for Individual Freedom and the Hispanic Leadership Fund, appealed the lower court decision, but the Federal Election Commission didn’t. That gave the appeals court the opening to say that without the FEC weighing in on some of the issues raised by the appellants, it couldn’t understand what the FEC intended.

Let’s be clear about what just happened. Using the hoary excuse t