High Court Hears Case on Lobby Disclosure Rules
By Joan Biskupic
The Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday on whether lobbying groups that contribute to political campaigns must comply with federal rules requiring them to disclose how their money is collected and spent.
But the justices appeared preoccupied by threshold legal problems and suggested they are unlikely to use the case involving the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to decide whether groups that mostly lobby elected officials but also give to candidates must comply with disclosure rules.
If the court were to rule on the merits of the case, it could bring new scrutiny to organizations that mostly lobby but also spend some portion of their time trying to influence elections through contributions.
The justices focused most of their queries on whether the people who sued the Federal Election Commission about its definition of "political committees" had legal standing to bring the case. They also questioned whether key FEC policies are sufficiently in flux that a ruling on the particulars of this case would be untimely.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the pro-Israeli lobbying group should be classified as a political committee and forced to disclose its financial dealings because it spent more than $1,000 a year on campaigns. The appeals court rejected an FEC view that only groups whose "major purpose" is the election of a candidate be covered. The FEC has said that requiring a group such as AIPAC, whose mission is primarily advocacy, to disclose its financial dealings would violate free speech rights.
The case of Federal Election Commission v. Akins was initiated by a group of former government officials who opposed AIPAC's activities, including former ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Akins and former ambassador to Qatar Andrew Kilgore.
Solicitor General Seth P. Waxman told the court yesterday that it should find that Akins and the other challengers lacked standing to sue the FEC because they failed to show that they were directly injured by its policy. But Daniel M. Schember, representing Akins and the others, said they are voters who have a right to the information that would be publicly available if AIPAC was considered a political committee.
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