Given a chance to make politics a little less opaque,
California legislators blew it.
That's the charitable interpretation, anyway.
We'd hate to believe that they don't want voters to know
who is paying for the TV commercials and mailers that
dominate campaigns for candidates and initiatives,
especially when witnessing the flood of money in this
year's presidential campaigns.
Yet legislation requiring both candidates and political
action committees to level with voters fell two votes short
in the Assembly, with two members not voting, as a deadline
passed on Jan. 31.
Fortunately, supporters of the California Disclose Act
haven't given up.
Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, re-introduced
the bill last week. This time, her colleagues should send
it on to the state Senate.
Brownley proposes three straightforward rules to help
voters assess political ads:
• In radio, television and Internet ads, candidates
must identify themselves and affirm that they approved the
message. This rule already applies to presidential and
• Political action committees, which frequently hide
behind amorphous names such as Citizens for a Better
Tomorrow or Californians for Better Government, must
identify their three largest contributors of more than
Moreover, the committee would be required to maintain a
website that identifies its top five contributors of more
than $10,000 and includes a link to the secretary of
state's website, where all campaign fundraising reports can
be reviewed. • On slate mailers, there must be an
asterisk next to the name of any candidate for whom a
payment was made - either by the candidate or an
independent committee. Existing law requires an asterisk
only if the candidate paid for a spot on a slate card.
Brownley's bill sailed through two committees. On the
Assembly floor, the bill got 52 votes, falling two short of
the two-thirds majority needed for approval. Republicans
Jeff Gorrell of Westlake Village and David G. Valadao of
Hanford didn't vote.
Opponents, all but one a Republican, argued that disclosure
is antithetical to free speech. Nonsense. Disclosure is a
foundation of campaign finance laws and a bulwark against
Almost $200 million was spent on initiative campaigns alone
in 2010, with hundreds of millions more spent by candidates
for statewide office and the Legislature as well as
independent expenditure committees, the state equivalent of
the super PACs dominating this year's presidential
A recent California Poll found that 84 percent of state
voters want more information about the financial backers of
initiative campaigns. To be informed voters, people need to
know who is supporting - or opposing - ballot measures as
well as independent expenditure campaigns.
Brownley's bill would help provide it. As Louis Brandeis, a
U.S. Supreme Court justice in the 20th century said,
"Sunshine is the best disinfectant."