Trump-Nominated FEC Commissioner Wants to Help Political Donors Conceal Their Identities

The proposal from Allen Dickerson has been placed on the Federal Election Commission's agenda for May 16.

Trump-Nominated FEC Commissioner Wants to Help Political Donors Conceal Their Identities
Federal Election Commission Commissioner James E. "Trey" Trainor III (L) and Commissioner Allen Dickerson (R) testify during a hearing before the House Administration Committee. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A Trump-nominated commissioner of the Federal Elections Commission who previously worked at an anti-campaign finance regulation organization funded by conservative political megadonors is seeking to make it easier for donors to conceal their identities from the public. The proposal by Commissioner Allen Dickerson, which has been placed on the agenda for by the FEC’s May 16 meeting, could supercharge “dark money” in politics by requiring the FEC to set up a request form for commissioners to redact donor information—without a public record of their actions.

If adopted, Dickerson’s proposal could effectively undermine a pillar of campaign finance regulation that has remained intact despite Citizens United and other deregulatory decisions from the Supreme Court—that disclosure requirements do not prevent political speech and are thus constitutional.

Earlier this month, Dickerson put forward a memo calling on the commission to draw up regulations establishing a formal process for donors who claim to be concerned about harassment to request to have their personal information redacted from public disclosures. 

The memo also calls on the commission to adopt an interim process for such requests, whereby donors or organizations acting on behalf of their contributors would be able to submit a form to request to have personal information redacted from disclosures. Under Dickerson’s interim proposal, individual donors or organizations would have to append their request for redaction with a notarized statement explaining “the factual basis for his or her belief that there is a reasonable probability that the relevant disclosure would subject the requestor to threats, harassments, or reprisals from either government officials or private parties.” 

The commissioners of the FEC would either approve a request by agreeing unanimously to a 48-hour no-objection ballot, or, if any commissioners object, by tally vote during an executive session. All requests for redactions, whether approved or denied by the FEC, would be kept confidential, under Dickerson’s proposal. 

Before being confirmed to the FEC in 2020, Dickerson was the legal director of the Institute for Free Speech, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization that has been funded by major dark money donors the Charles Koch Institute, the Bradley Impact Fund, the Leonard Leo-affiliated 85 Fund, and the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation, according to tax documents. The Institute for Free Speech works to protect First Amendment rights, including by opposing campaign finance regulations it believes infringe on people’s and corporations’ freedom of speech through money in politics.

Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, warns that Dickerson’s proposal could greatly limit the public’s right to know who funds political campaigns. 

“If approved by the FEC, Dickerson's proposal will likely eviscerate the nation's campaign finance disclosure system, the one mission left that the Commission has so far dutifully carried out,” Holman said.

In arguing for his proposal, Dickerson noted that “for nearly twenty-five years, [the FEC] granted a blanket exception permitting the Socialist Workers Party to protect its donors’ confidentiality” and that “more recently, the Commission has granted several private requests to redact or substitute individual mailing addresses on Commission reports.”

“But many individuals may not have been intrepid or connected enough to file a request,” Dickerson argues. “Given the importance of the rights involved, the country’s charged political atmosphere, and basic principles of fairness, the Commission has an obligation to adopt a formal process providing for ‘a fair consideration’ of particular contributors’ situations.”

Proponents of campaign finance regulations argue that Dickerson is seeking to expand the type of exemption that was granted to Socialist Workers Party (SWP) far beyond its intent.

“In 1979, the court examined an extensive record of government intimidation against members of SWP, including the creation of a Custodial Detention List in which all members of the Socialist party were identified for arrest in the event of a national emergency,” said Holman. “Thus, the court exempted the SWP from disclosing its donors because of the case record of harassment. 

“The Dickerson proposal seeks to vastly expand this rare donor exemption far beyond its original intent, now to cover all persons, all parties and all organizations in the mainstream political universe who feel intimidated by disclosing their campaign contributions,” Holman said.