Only a minority of the many genomic clusters of transcription factor binding motifs (TFBM) act as transcriptional enhancers. To identify determinants of enhancer activity, we randomized the spacer sequences separating the ETS and GATA sites of the early neural enhancer of the tunicate Ciona intestinalis Otx gene. We show that spacer sequence randomization affects the level of activity of the enhancer, in part through distal effects on the affinity of the transcription factors for their binding sites. A possible mechanism is suggested by the observation that the shape of the DNA helix within the TFBM can be affected by mutation of flanking bases that modulate transcription factor affinity. Strikingly, dormant genomic clusters of ETS and GATA sites are awakened by most instances of spacer randomization, suggesting that the sequence of naturally-occurring spacers ensures the dormancy of a majority of the large reservoir of TFBM clusters present in a metazoan genome.