But others such as the James Madison Institute, another conservative think tank and Koch Institute partner, saw free, anonymous speech under assault and felt compelled to express its views to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
While it also has moved on from campaign finance laws being at the top of its agenda, it still weighs in on the issue of disclosure as it did in a commentary on the matter last year, where it called donor disclosure laws “reckless” and a threat to free and anonymous speech.
The James Madison Institute has received more than $404,000 from the Koch-affiliated State Policy Network during the past 15 years and more than $188,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation from 2007 to 2014, according to tax documents.
Logan Pike, spokeswoman for the organization, said the James Madison Institute will continue to push against disclosure laws, which it sees as an “assault on the Bill of Rights.”
“JMI is committed to defending the rights of all organizations to operate free of government intrusion,” she said.
But intrusion might be what the public wants. A 2015 Associated Press and National Opinion Research Center for Public Affairs Research poll found that 60 percent of Americans say that disclosing donors to all groups would be effective in reducing money’s influence on politics.
That same poll found that 75 percent favor laws requiring organizations that raise and spend unlimited money to publicly disclose their donors.
There are other players who have offered strong campaign finance arguments for the courts to consider — including a few most often associated with liberal causes.
Activists on the left
Left-leaning organizations frequently tout the merits of political disclosure and often fight in court for it.
But they don’t always follow their own advice.
The American Association of Retired Persons fought alongside Common Cause in McConnell v. FEC in support of the McCain-Feingold law. AARP and Common Cause argued that the McCain-Feingold law was a needed tool to combat post-Watergate political scandals and to close various campaign finance loopholes.
Ahead of the McCutcheon case, it teamed up again with Common Cause, the Campaign Legal Center and a host of others, warning of the significance that joint fundraising committees could have and contending that federal campaign finance limits should be upheld for the sake of staving off corruption or the appearance of corruption.
AARP operates a 501(c)(3) charitable branch and a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” branch, the latter which may engage directly in political campaigns.
Issue One, a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for reform, does disclose its donors upon request. Like many of its right and left counterparts, Issue One’s donor base largely consists of family foundations with a few donor advised funds intermingled.
William Gray, Issue One’s deputy communications director, said donors aren’t listed on its website because some donors don’t want to be solicited for donations by other organizations. (Gray previously worked as media relations specialist for the Center for Public Integrity.)
Two donor advised funds, Impact Assets and National Christian Foundation, gave Issue One $372,500 and $1,000, respectively. The original sources of these funds are not publicly known.
Hewlett-Packard co-founder William Hewlett’s William & Flora Hewlett Foundation has given at least $400,000, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund Inc. has given $40,000.
Jonathan Soros is the son of Democratic mega-donor George Soros and a prominent Democratic funder in his own right, contributing to dozens of different liberal candidates and political committees, according to FEC records analyzed by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
According to the Center for Public Integrity’s review of tax documents of organizations that filed pro-reform briefs to the courts, the Jennifer and Jonathan Allan Soros Foundation has donated $508,000 to other allied groups, such as the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause Education Fund and the Brennan Center for Justice.
But that’s just a fraction of what Jonathan’s father, billionaire tycoon George Soros, has given to some of the same institutions. George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, formerly called the Open Society Institute, has shelled out more than $9.4 million to these groups, including the Brennan Center for Justice, Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Public Citizen, the League of Women Voters and Democracy 21.