Proponents of disclosure have every right to celebrate, but the future of this issue is far from clear. Judge Jackson’s order will almost certainly be appealed again to the D.C. Circuit, and from there could head to the Supreme Court. Sooner or later, the Court will have to confront the gap between the picture of full disclosure it has painted in its rhetoric and the dark money reality its decisions have actually fostered. Nobody, maybe not even the justices, knows what will happen then.
In the meantime, the practical impact of yesterday’s decision will be limited. Through a quirk in the law, ECs are now subject to more disclosure than communications containing an explicit call to vote for or against a candidate (which have their own loophole). Political spenders need only tweak the language of their ads to continue keeping their donors secret. In fact, most have already done so. The use of ECs declined precipitously following Judge Jackson’s 2012 ruling, and has never really rebounded. So little will change. Real, comprehensive reform will have to wait for another day.