Tuesday, September 30, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Campaign finance disclosure is No. 1

TomEliasW

By
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 tdelias@aol.com

Comments

comments

  • Recent Posts

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

  • .

    News

    Sanity phase begins in Daniel Marsh trial

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1

     
    Council looks at granny-flat revision

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1

    Man on a mission: Rob White seeks to transform Davis

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Poppenga outlines ambitious agenda

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Cool Davis Festival is très chill

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Standing In: Is the therapy for them, or me?

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A2

    California exhausts initial firefighting budget

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Find the perfect club or organization to join

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: C2 | Gallery

    Brown allows new local development financing tools

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Forum examines Props. 1 and 2 on November ballot

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Assembly candidates will be at Woodland forum

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Pets of the week

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4 | Gallery

     
    California approves landmark ‘yes means yes’ law

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

    TSA bomb training may be noisy

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Try out basic yoga on Thursday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    DCC welcomes students with free lunch

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Gibson House hosts plant sale and garden event

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Register to vote by Oct. 20

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    UCD, University College Dublin will cooperate on food, health

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

     
    Accessibility technology on exhibit at fair

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    Covell Gardens breakfast benefits Komen Foundation

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

     
    Put your hoes down and celebrate the harvest

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5 | Gallery

    Panelists discuss raising children with special needs

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

     
    Number of wheels: How many bicycles do you have in your household?

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: C5 | Gallery

    DCC hosts fair-trade gift sale on Oct. 11

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

     
    Downtown history tour planned in October

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    Emerson gives away old textbooks

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

     
    Fraud Awareness Fair set Oct. 15 in West Sac

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

     
    Woodland PD seeks volunteers for ViP program

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

    DMTC makes musical theater accessible to everyone

    By Bev Sykes | From Page: C9 | Gallery

     
    Take home a wreath from Davis Flower Arrangers’ meeting

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

    Snapshot: A night out with the neighbors

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: C10

     
    Davis school names reflect interesting history

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: C12

    Snapshot: Plenty of places to park it

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: C14

     
    Snapshot: Dive into Davis fun

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: C15

    Snapshot: Kick garbage to the curb

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: C16

     
    Snapshot: Sounds like a party

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: C17

    .

    Forum

    It takes two to lambada

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    He seems happy at home

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

    The great bedtime conspiracy

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    They’re best-prepared to lead

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Vibrant and hard-working

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

    Archer has the right stuff

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    Get on your bikes to meet Davis’ greenhouse gas goals

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

    Marsh case shows need for ‘Maupin’s Law’

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

     
    .

    Sports

     
    Only 15 months out of UCD, Runas off to LPGA Tour

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Davis golfers get teaching moments in forfeit win

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    ‘Playoff game’ or missed chance? Either way the Aggies move on

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Devils move atop league standings with win

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Two Junior Blue Devil squads emerge victorious

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

     
    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

     
    Woodland artist hosts event at her new studio

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    I-House film series continues with ‘Monsieur Lazhar’

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

     
    ‘Art Farm’ exhibition will open in Woodland

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    Pleasant Valley Boys cool down Picnic in the Park

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9 | Gallery

     
    Acclaimed guitarist Peppino D’Agostino to play The Palms

    By Landon Christensen | From Page: A9

    .

    Business

    .

    Obituaries

    Danelle Evelyn Watson

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Michael Allen Hanks Baxter

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Anne Elizabeth Elbrecht

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Tuesday, September 30, 2014 (set 1)

    By Creator | From Page: B5

     
    Comics: Tuesday, September 30, 2014 (set 2)

    By Creator | From Page: B7