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Political contributions need to be unmasked

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A group in Arizona has dumped $11 million into California to oppose one measure on the November ballot and support another. Now it needs to tell us who its campaign contributors are.

The group is known as Americans for Responsible Leadership, and it gave a donation of $11 million to the Small Business Action Committee PAC. That group is actively campaigning against Proposition 30, the tax measure on the November ballot that is supported by Gov. Jerry Brown. The group also is campaigning for Proposition 32, the measure that would curb the ability of unions to spend their own money in political campaigns.

Whether you agree or disagree with what their money is being spent on, the donors to the Arizona group should be disclosed. California regulations forbid nonprofits from concealing the identity of their donors if the money is intended for political purposes here.

This donation should not be taken lightly. Political watchers and state officials say it could be the largest anonymous campaign donation since these disclosure rules were put into place in 1974.

To force the disclosure of this information, the California Fair Political Practices Commission has filed a lawsuit against Americans for Responsible Leadership. The hearing into the matter will be held in Sacramento County Superior Court on Tuesday, and the California Attorney General’s Office will be supporting the FPPC in the courtroom.

The state should funnel its full resources into this lawsuit to stand up for openness in campaign spending — a topic that California has a chance to lead the nation in with a solid win in this case.

True, the hearing is just a week before Election Day, and many voters, especially those typically more conservative-leaning folks who vote absentee, have already voted and mailed in their ballots. But the larger issue should not be dropped just because the case may be resolved too late to have any effect on the results of this election cycle.

A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed for money to be dumped into political campaigns across the nation at ever-increasing rates. The lack of a cap on donations makes it even more critical that voters should know where such money is coming from — especially in cases like this, where the money is funneled through an ambiguously named group.

Conservatives won the fight about unlimited campaign donations, but now is the perfect time to use one of their own arguments against them. The matter here is clearly a prime case of state’s rights. California has the right to enforce its regulations upon this group since these donors want to spend their money to influence our election. To argue against the state would be to concede the need for federal oversight of such spending.

If these folks want to affect our elections, they have to play by our rules. We hope that the judge in Sacramento rules the same way and pulls back the curtains to reveal which deep-pocketed, out-of-state donors are working so hard to influence the future of our state.