BOSTON — A Republican-backed fiscal watchdog group will ask a federal judge on Tuesday to void a new state campaign finance law that requires the disclosure of top donors in political advertising.
The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, founded by Pepperell businessman and GOP congressional candidate Rick Green, has sued Attorney General Maura Healey and the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance over a 2016 law that requires nonprofits to list their top five donors in any political advertising that goes out within 90 days of an election.
Oral arguments in the lawsuit, filed last year, are scheduled to be heard by a U.S. District Court judge in Boston on Tuesday.
MassFiscal says it's not challenging the state’s disclosure and reporting requirements but objects to "being forced to publish irrelevant information about its officers and donors."
In court filings, the group argues that the requirement violates the privacy rights of its contributors and chills fundraising efforts.
"There are a great many reasons why people prefer not to be identified," said Brad Smith, chairman of the Institute for Free Speech, a Virginia-based group that is representing MassFiscal in the lawsuit. "And the Supreme Court has long recognized, for 60 or more years, that forcing people to disclose this information can inhibit free speech and freedom of association."
Besides listing the top five donors, the rules require groups to include a statement from the head of the organization responsible for the mailings and a link to the group's website.
MassFiscal is registered as a nonprofit and operates under a classification that allows it to raise and spend money on "voter education" but prohibits it from advocating for any particular candidate.
Under federal law, the group doesn't have to disclose the sources of its funding.
In recent years, the conservative group has attacked Democratic lawmakers ahead of elections for supporting increased spending and taxes, raising the gas tax by indexing it to inflation, and "denying veterans priority housing benefits over illegal immigrants."
MassFiscal publishes a "scorecard" that assesses how certain lawmakers vote on budgetary items. Republicans get the best ratings, while Democrats usually have low or zero-percent scores.
Democrats have for years accused the group of flouting state campaign finance laws by operating like a political committee. They complain the group refuses to disclose donors whose money it uses to pay for negative mailers and robocalls. Democrats argue that the legal challenge is about shielding MassFiscal's donors from public scrutiny.
Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause of Massachusetts, said any spending on behalf or in opposition to a political candidate should be disclosed to the public.
"This is about shining a light on the political process," she said. "If you’re spending money to influence elections, you should be required to report it, period."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.