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SCOTUS Passes on New Campaign Finance Case

In a decision that will undoubtedly please President Obama, 24 hours before Election Day no less, the Supreme Court announced Monday it will not hear arguments in a case that could have ultimately led to a decision striking down more parts of federal campaign finance law.

The case challenged the specific reporting requirements that some political organizations have to file with federal authorities. Critics of the law contend those regulations are onerous and violate their free speech rights. Nine months ago, the high court, in a 5-4 ruling repeatedly criticized by Obama and other Democrats, invalidated key provisions of federal laws regulating how groups can spend money on political messages.

The Obama Administration represented by Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal strenuously argued against the justices taking the new case. "Petitioners' argument fails because it is based on the flawed premise that the disclosure requirements at issue in this case are analogous to the expenditure limitations at issue in Citizens United."

Citizens United v. FEC is the January decision allowing corporations, labor unions and others entities the ability to spend unlimited amounts of money on political messages, that prompted Obama to criticize the Supreme Court during his State of the Union address. He has continued to blast the ruling and the subsequent explosion of money spent by scores of groups since then in advance of Tuesday's election. Obama's criticism is decidedly one-sided as organizations supporting Republicans as well as Democrats have made use of the decision.

The new case, SpeechNow.org v. FEC, challenged the paperwork requirements that non-profit groups, known as 527's because of their IRS classification, are forced to comply with in order to remain in compliance under federal law.

These requirements include mandates to appoint a treasurer, maintain a separately designated bank account, keep records for three years that include the name and address of any person who makes a contribution in excess of $50, file with the FEC quarterly or monthly reports during the calendar year of a general election detailing cash on hand and the identification of each person who contributes an annual aggregate amount of more than $200.

The paperwork is mandatory for all entities, known as political action committees or PAC's, but as a non-profit group, Speechnow.org claimed it should be free from these duties. "This case raises the question of whether the government may impose the full panoply of burdensome requirements that apply to political committees or "PAC's" on a group that makes only independent expenditures," Institute for Justice lawyer Steven Simpson wrote to the court on behalf of SpeechNow.org.

Earlier this year a Washington D.C. based federal appeals court ruled that groups like SpeechNow.org are free to raise and spend unlimited funds for political purposes, but the court also held that the group must comply with the federal reporting guidelines for PAC's. Monday's high court decision means that ruling remains in effect.

According to its website, SpeechNow.org was founded in 2007 by David Keating because "he was disgusted by the incessant attacks on the First Amendment." Embattled Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold who is up for election Tuesday is a SpeechNow.org target for his support of stringent campaign finance laws. The website purportedly gives "Americans who support free speech a way to join together, pool their resources, and advocate for federal candidates who agree with them--and work to defeat those who do not."

A recent analysis of political spending shows that the group has spent more than $135,000 this year.