Editorial: Help voters by revealing who's paying for ads

Ventura County Star, August 20th, 2014

Voters in California have a right to know the major funding sources for and against ballot measures.

That's key information, but efforts are routinely made to disguise the identity of some donors.

In 2012, for example, $66 million was spent on ads against a cigarette tax, with big contributions from Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds Tobacco. Yet, the public was told that the ads were "paid for by Californians Against Out of Control Taxes and Spending."

To prevent such secrecy - "political deception" might be more accurate - and support an informed electorate through greater transparency, The Star urges the state Assembly to pass the California Disclose Act, officially known as Senate Bill 52.

SB 52 was passed by the Senate last year, and the Assembly is expected to vote on it soon. We call on lawmakers to give it their strong backing and send it to Gov. Jerry Brown, who should sign it into law.

California will benefit from SB 52. It requires the three largest funders of ballot measure ads on TV and in newspapers, mass mailers and other print media to be clearly and prominently identified in the ads. On radio ads and robocalls, the two largest funders would have to be prominently identified.

The rule applies to the original source of the funds, regardless of whether the money is transferred through one or more nonprofit groups or campaign committees. The central objective is to block the common use of vague, deceptive names of committees, which is an insult to voters.

Backers of SB 52 cite the 2012 tobacco tax as one of many examples. In 2006, an oil severance tax was defeated after tens of millions of dollars were spent against it. Major funding came from Chevron, Aera Energy and Occidental Oil and Gas, but voters were told the ads came from "Californians Against Higher Taxes."

Voters are entitled to know the actual identity of major donors. The California Disclose Act does that through constitutional and reasonable rules that apply to corporations, unions, other groups and individuals in state and local ballot measure elections.

We have long supported reasonable steps to uncover the influence of special-interest money in politics. The Disclose Act does that, and it deserves the Assembly's full support.

See the article on Ventura County Star website

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