April 26, 2021

Whitehouse Statement on Oral Arguments in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Rodriquez

Senator urges Court not to enshrine dark-money spending in constitutional law

Washington, DC – Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Courts Subcommittee, released the following statement today on oral arguments at the Supreme Court in Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF) v. Rodriquez, a case that could pave the way for sweeping protections for anonymous “dark-money” spending in American democracy:

“This case may seem like a measly spat over state nonprofit rules, but a massive threat lurks within. If the big, special-interest donors behind this challenge get their way, dark money will enjoy constitutional protection, and special interests will have a free pass to rig our democracy from behind a veil of secrecy. Even in Citizens Untied—the decision that launched a ‘tsunami of slime’ in our democracy—the Roberts Court pointed to the need for transparency and accountability for people spending to influence government. Now, the Court must choose between those long-observed principles and locking in the dark-money power of America’s influencer class, possibly forever.”

AFPF is the latest move in a campaign by powerful special interests to cement their influence over government following the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC. The case turns on a seemingly small question of whether California can collect limited information on large donors to nonprofits operating in the state. The state, which does not make the information public, uses the information to help in administering taxes and to enforce rules governing nonprofit organizations’ tax-exempt status. Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a group at the center of the billionaire industrialist Koch family’s front group network, challenged California’s rules by arguing that the First Amendment guarantees a right to spend money to influence government in secret.

Last month, Whitehouse and 14 colleagues filed a brief in the case. The senators warned that siding with the wealthy special interests that propelled the case to the Court would permit dark money’s smothering influence over American democracy to grow. The senators urged the Court to uphold the limited nonprofit disclosure requirements at issue in the case and to help check the decline in Americans’ confidence in their government.

Read the senators’ full brief here.

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Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921