California Democrats propose stricter campaign disclosure laws

By Capitol Alert
Sacramento Bee, December 20th, 2012

Following the controversy in California's initiative campaigns over an $11 million donation from a secretive, out-of-state group, Democratic lawmakers have begun introducing legislation to increase disclosure requirements and the power of the Fair Political Practices Commission to enforce them.

Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, announced legislation this afternoon that would require donors of $50,000 or more to a non-profit group to be identified if the contribution is made within six months of an election and if the non-profit makes a large donation to a campaign within that same period.

"This is the kind of information that voters and the public need and deserve to have before they cast their votes, not find out after," Dickinson said.

Assembly Bill 45 would also require the Secretary of State to make campaign and lobbying filings available to the FPPC and would authorize the FPPC to seek court injunctions related to disclosure.

Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the FPPC, said the bill would provide the FPPC the "clear ability" to seek those injunctions. When the FPPC sued the Arizona group Americans for Responsible Leadership over its $11 million donation earlier this year, Ravel said, "we were acting somewhat creatively in interpreting our statutes" to permit such a lawsuit.

Facing a California Supreme Court order, Americans for Responsible Leadership disclosed the source of its contributions -- two other out-of-state groups whose backers remain unknown.

Ravel said her office is still investigating the donation, which was made to a committee opposing Gov. Jerry Brown's ballot measure to raise taxes and supporting a separate campaign finance measure.

Earlier today, state Sens. Mark Leno and Jerry Hill announced that they have introduced legislation that would require broader disclosure of a campaign's major funding sources in political ads.

"We saw evidence in the most recent election cycle of unnamed organizations throwing around large sums of money in order to confuse California voters," Leno, D-San Francisco, said in a prepared statement. "The only way to stop this covert financing of campaigns is to require the simple and clear disclosure of the top three funders of political ads so voters can make well-informed decisions at the ballot box."

Ravel has said she plans to push next year for changes to the Political Reform Act, and she appeared with Dickinson at his news conference at a Sacramento school. Ravel said she has yet to take a position, however, on Dickinson's bill or on Senate Bill 52, the legislation Leno and Hill introduced. She said the FPPC intends to evaluate a variety of proposals.

Legislation to change the Political Reform Act would require a two-thirds majority in the Legislature.

Sabrina Lockhart, spokeswoman for Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway, said in an email that her office hasn't seen the proposed legislation.

"In general," she said, "Republicans would be willing to look at ways to increase transparency in the campaign contribution process while balancing freedom of speech rights."

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