Could this week bring the brief return of anonymous attack ads? The next few days will tell.
Attack ads are frequently “electioneering communications,” television and radio ads that refer to a clearly identified candidate 30 days prior to a primary election or 60 days prior to the general election. In the last election cycle, prior to Van Hollen v. FEC, FEC regulations generally only required disclosure of contributions that were earmarked for a particular electioneering communication. The March 2012 Van Hollen decision for the first time required that a group airing an electioneering communication must disclose the identity of its donors who had contributed more than $1,000 to the group since January 2011.
Generally, the Van Hollen decision demands greater disclosure. But, a funny thing happened on the way to the general election—Governor Romney’s electioneering communications disclosure window has closed again. Having accepted the Republican nomination for President at the Republican National Convention, Governor Romney is no longer in a primary election period. However, the general election’s electioneering communications 60-day disclosure window does not start until September 7, 2012. (President Obama is still in a primary election period through September 6, 2012.)
During this brief period between the close of the Republican convention and September 7th, 501(c)(4)s can run issue ads against Governor Romney (or for him) without having to disclose any donors, while still complying with the Van Hollen decision. Will anyone do it? We’ll see this week.