Disclosure of campaign-ad funders needed

San Francisco Chronicle, June 1st, 2013

Coming up with names for front groups to hide the identity of political funding sources has almost become an art form. Legislation that just cleared the state Senate should help put a stop to such chicanery.

Senate Bill 52, co-authored by Sens. Mark Leno of San Francisco and Jerry Hill of San Mateo, would require political ads to list their top three funders. This disclosure requirement would apply to ballot initiatives and independent expenditures for and against candidates.

SB 52, which advanced on a 28-11 vote, should help put an end to the nonsense of naming campaign committees in ways designed to intentionally confuse voters. Often they concoct names suggesting they are something they are not. Corporations, labor unions and other special interests try to come up with names that suggest a grassroots movement or imprimatur of science, parenthood, consumerism or other reassuring endorsement.

The Leno-Hill bill would cut to the chase: It would force a campaign ad to reveal its top three funders. It also would end the fine-print trick by requiring such disclosure to appear at the start of the television ad and cover at least a third of the screen with a black background. Similarly forthright specifications would be placed on campaign websites and mailers, and newspaper and radio ads.

"Rather than a block of type you can't read, you'll see who actually paid for it," said Leno.

The measure cleared the Senate with the two-thirds vote that would be required of both houses to amend the Political Reform Act of 1974. The outcome was curiously close for a measure without a single listed official opponent. Sen. Anthony Cannella of Stanislaus County was the only Republican to vote yes.

The Assembly should move quickly to advance this important disclosure bill to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.

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