Tea Party Bid to Avoid Disclosing Political Contributors Fails


On November 21, 2013, the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) considered a request from the Tea Party Leadership Fund (TPLF) for an exemption from campaign finance reporting and disclosure requirements.

Candidates, political action committees and political parties, like the TPLF, are required to disclose their contributors to the FEC. The TPLF sought an exception from the reporting and disclosure requirements based on a U.S. Supreme Court case that granted First Amendment protection to political party members if disclosure would result in threats or harassment. Buckley v. Valeo, 967 S. Ct. 612 (1976).

The TPLF argued that the Supreme Court case allowed it to protect the identity of its contributors because there was “a reasonable probability that disclosure would result in threats, harassment, or reprisals from government officials or private parties.” In its request, the TPLF argued that because it and other Tea Party groups operate outside the dominant two-party political system, their candidates “lack access to the same funding and financial support guaranteed to mainstream parties, have lesser chance of election victory; correspondingly, there is a lesser risk of corruption,” diminishing the government’s interest in disclosure.

In its meeting, the FEC considered two draft advisory opinions, one allowing the exemption and one rejecting the request. Neither opinion received the necessary affirmative vote by four members of the FEC meaning that the exemption was not granted. As a result, the TPLF is required to disclose its contributor information to the FEC in accordance with the Federal Election Campaign Act.

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