Sunday, March 29, 2015

Campaign finance disclosure is No. 1


From page A6 | January 23, 2013 |

Democrats are feeling their oats this month, enjoying a sense that they’re unstoppable because they now enjoy one-party rule in Sacramento. That includeds two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Legislature and a Democrat securely in the governor’s office, looking like a lock for re-election if he chooses to run in 2014.

But as Democrats contemplate restoring some programs they’ve reluctantly helped cut over the past four years of deep budget deficits, they should not lose sight of the rare opportunity their majorities give them to make California politics the most transparent in the nation.

One thing they will do if they’re as reform-minded as they claim is revive some form of an idea that failed when proposed as a ballot initiative in 2002: Require all advertisements for propositions to list the three largest donors behind those ads in type as large as the biggest anywhere else in the ad.

That measure would pass constitutional muster because it doesn’t restrict anyone’s free speech rights, but it also would make voters who often don’t read the fine print at the end of political TV commercials aware of who’s behind the messages they’re seeing and hearing.

Some Democrats clearly want to do this. They were stung last fall by an October-surprise $11 million in donations from an Arizona nonprofit that paid for scores of commercials opposing Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax increase measure and backing another that could have greatly reduced the political clout of labor unions.

The state Fair Political Practices Commission quickly sued to compel disclosure of the true sources of that money, but ultimately was stymied when the nonprofit, Americans for Responsible Leadership, revealed only that it got the money from another Arizona nonprofit, which in turn got it from a nonprofit in Virginia. Even now, no one is sure whose money it was, as the secondary groups’ names — Americans for Job Security and the Center to Protect Patient Rights — are bland titles signifying little.

The furor, of course, ultimately helped Brown’s measure win and did nothing for the anti-union proposition. But for anyone interested in electoral openness, it’s vital to identify the sources of this type so-called “dark money.”

Democrats have been far more active than Republicans over the past 40 years in seeking to identify real campaign donors — Brown sponsored and helped write a landmark initiative on the subject in 1974 — and their new supermajorities give some hope for progress here.

One measure proposed in the Legislature’s short December meeting would revive the essence of the 2002 proposition, forcing the top funders behind all political ads to list themselves in those ads. Passing this requires a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature, as it amounts to a revision of Brown’s 39-year-old Political Reform Act.

Even with Democrats in charge, two-thirds support is far from assured. Plenty of Democrats are just as interested as Republicans in disguising their donors. It remains to be seen whether they’ll rise above those selfish interests.

But if Democrats are smart and if they can stay unified — something they’ve rarely managed in either Sacramento or Washington, D.C. — they’ll pass campaign reform quickly, making sure new rules are in effect long before the next primary election in June 2014.

“Without disclosure, voters are easily fooled,” says the California Clean Money Campaign. That group names as particularly deceptive the ads for last fall’s Proposition 33 insurance rate measure, which listed neither of its primary sponsors, Mercury Insurance and its chairman George Joseph, on its website, in TV commercials or even in its ballot argument.

Yet, when a disclosure measure came up in the last legislative session, Republicans voted against it unanimously. One GOP assemblyman, Don Wagner of Irvine, objected to the bill’s requiring sponsoring company logos to appear on advertisements, agreeing with businesses that this might somehow dilute their brand image.

The answer to that complaint: If public knowledge that a company backs a political measure could hurt sales, maybe that company ought to think twice about what it’s backing.

Even without legislative action, the FPPC already has voted to require groups that spend more than $100,000 for an initiative petition to reveal their backing on the measure’s organization papers. That falls far short of forcing any group to list itself on actual petitions, the only place most signers would see any listing. But at least it’s something.

The commission also will require candidates and committees to identify themselves when sending out mass emails. But those IDs can be meaningless committee names.

Taken together, it’s clear that without a major upgrade to the Political Reform Act, big donors will continue trying to pull the wool over voters’ eyes. For any legislature at any time, preventing this kind of dishonesty through omission or evasion should be a top priority.

— Reach syndicated columnist Tom Elias at [email protected]



  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .


    Where do Davis recyclables go?

    By Felicia Alvarez | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    UCD faculty receive lowest pay in the system

    By Tanya Perez | From Page: A1

    Motive for murder-suicide remains a mystery

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1, 1 Comment | Gallery

    Davis sewage to get new digs

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1

    Human Relations Commission hosts Chávez celebration

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A2

    Davis Flower Arrangers meet Wednesday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6

    ‘Music as Medicine’ is radio show topic

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6

    Friendship the topic on radio program

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6



    These results were meaningless

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

    Survey not representative

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

    Answers on the green waste program

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B4

    A phone call could have fixed this

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B4

    Milt Prigee cartoon

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B4

    Some ‘survey’ …

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

    Mayor’s corner: Looking ahead to spring

    By Dan Wolk | From Page: B5 | Gallery

    A Little Respect for Dr. Foster

    By Nicholas Kristof | From Page: B5

    Universities need more funding

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B5

    Father of the bride snubbed

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

    Which experiences count as ‘once in a lifetime’?

    By Marion Franck | From Page: A8

    After a month of no TV news, I’m feeling much better

    By Debra DeAngelo | From Page: A8

    Take a hike for your heart

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8



    Aggie softball splits doubleheader

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Davis softballers suffer setback, remain optimistic

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Republic stun Galaxy with repeated history

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Bad fourth quarter sinks boys lacrosse

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Aggies’ walkoff win clinches series against Riverside

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Burns scores shootout winner to lift Sharks

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

    UCD roundup: Aggie women’s tennis dominates at home

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B10 | Gallery







    Millennials are changing our community

    By Rob White | From Page: A9

    With new owner, DAC will Get Fit

    By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A9 | Gallery

    Grant writing for non-profits workshop set

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9





    Comics: Sunday, March 29, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: B8