August 31, 2010; Source: Chicago Tribune | Voters in Illinois won’t have to wonder who is backing the efforts of a Virginia-based nonprofit group to influence upcoming races to elect judges in the state. Last week, a federal judge in Chicago ruled that The Center for Individual Freedom had to comply with Illinois’ laws requiring public disclosure on expenditures for political campaigns.

U.S. Judge William Hart’s decision means that the group won’t be able to keep the names of its donors private. According to the Chicago Tribune, in recent years the center, which calls itself nonpartisan, has become active in “judicial politics.” In a 2008 Alabama campaign, the center ran television ads in favor of the winning Republican candidate.

The center initially filed the suit seeking protection from Illinois’ disclosure laws. Among its arguments were that current law is discriminatory because labor unions are exempt from the reporting requirements that apply to other nonprofits and that the rules are unconstitutionally vague about what kind of speech is subject to disclosure. Judge Hart rejected both arguments.

The Tribune reports that the judge said the Center is a political action committee and, unlike unions, is subject to campaign reporting rules. He also said the state’s election code “defines with sufficient clarity the type of expenditures and the related speech that subjects an entity to the registration requirement.”

Cynthia Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, which sided with the state’s attorney general’s office in a friend-of-the-court brief, hailed the decision. She said, “People can express whatever views they have, but it’s important for voters to know where those views are coming from and who’s paying for them.” Thomas Kirby, the lawyer for the center disagreed, saying, “Our donors believe the government cannot and should not impose on privacy as a price for exercising their First Amendment rights.” He said the center may appeal.—Bruce Trachtenberg