California campaign cash disclosure bill needs final push: Editorial

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, August 26th, 2014

For Californians who know all about the problems caused by big money's influence on elections, finding the solution remains easier said than done.

Limits on campaign donations have helped. But the U.S. Supreme Court has knocked down such restrictions with its rulings in the cases of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in 2010, and McCutcheon v. FEC, last April.

Another approach would be to require more complete disclosure of campaign donations. Then, if the money can't be capped, voters could at least know who's spending what on which campaigns. But the California Legislature has been reluctant to take that step.

Time and hope are running out for a state Senate bill that would require advertisements for ballot measures to clearly indicate who's paying for the ads.

Before a scheduled Assembly vote Saturday - on the final weekend of the 2014 legislative season - California residents must tell their representatives to support it.

The bill, SB 52, by San Francisco-area Democrats Mark Leno and Jerry Hill, is also known as the DISCLOSE Act. It stands for Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections. At least the clever name reflects its actual intent, unlike the names of many of the nice-sounding political-action groups we hear promoting this or that self-serving ballot measure.

SB 52 would do several things. It would require that state ballot initiatives' and propositions' TV commercials feature prominent disclosure of the top three funders of the ads, and require similar disclosure in radio, robocall and print advertising. The funders named would have to be the people, organizations, corporations or labor unions that provided the original funding, rather than "front" groups.

That last requirement would seek to prevent outrages like what happened before the 2012 California election, when an Arizona nonprofit with anonymous backing dropped $11 million into two proposition campaigns - to try to buy favor at the polls without showing their faces.

SB 52 took a long time to pass the Senate but finally did in May 2013; among those voting no were Southern California Sens. Bob Huff, Steve Knight and Rod Wright. Now it has taken a long time to get to the Assembly floor, and since it needs two-thirds approval because it's an amendment to the Political Reform Act of 1974, it's far from a sure thing to reach Gov. Jerry Brown's desk; in a recent committee vote, one Democrat, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, voted no, and two others declined to vote.

Legislators tend not to like ballot-initiative backers; thus, they went ahead this week and passed AB 400, which requires initiative and recall petitions to identify campaign donors.

But lawmakers like even less any change that makes political professionals' jobs harder, which these campaign-ad requirements certainly would.

Add to that the fact that SB 52 is generally opposed by organized labor, and it's no mystery why Democrats in Sacramento resist a bill that seems like a natural for them.

The bill has the backing of Southern California Democratic Assembly members Raul Bocanegra, Ian Calderon and Mike Gatto. It needs more.

Tell your Assembly rep you want to know who's paying for campaign ads - or know the reason why you can't.

See the article on San Gabriel Valley Tribune website

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