State senators seek campaign finance reform

A pair of state Senators intend to introduce bills to beef up California’s laws requiring disclosure of political contributions.

State senators Leland Yee, D-San Francsico, and Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, said they’re still finalizing the exact language of their two bills, they plan to increase penalties for failing to properly disclose campaign contributions, require greater disclosure of funding sources on mass mailings and media advertisements, and close a loophole that lets some nonprofits finance campaigns without naming their donors.

As an example of that loophole, they cited the $11 million contribution made in October by Arizona-based Americans for Responsible Leadership to oppose Proposition 30 and support Proposition 32 on last month’s ballot. It took a lawsuit filed by the state’s Fair Political Practices Committee to win disclosure of the money’s true donors.

“Laundering money through nonprofits in an attempt to avoid transparency is fundamentally undemocratic,” Yee said in a news release today. “Our democracy should not be bought and sold in shady backroom deals. The California Disclose Act will close this loophole and ensure that Californians are well aware of who is funding campaigns and ballot measures.”

Ted Lieu“As alert voters were chagrined to learn, last-minute donations from what essentially were anonymous special interests was a blatant attempt to unfairly shape election results,” said Lieu. “This must stop.”

Good-government groups already are lining up behind the senators’ bills.

“With these proposals, California will continue to lead the country in campaign finance disclosure,” California Common Cause policy advocate Phillip Ung said in Yee’s news release. “These bills show policymakers are listening to voters’ demands and the Legislature will take action to shine a light on the interests behind campaign laundering schemes.”

Jennifer Waggoner, president of the League of Women Voters of California, said voters’ trust in government is eroded when they can’t see behind big donations from special interests. “Effective regulation of money in politics ensures the public’s right to know and promotes confidence in the political process.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Margarita Lacabe

    The Democratic Party needs to start by cleaning up our own house. It’s disingenuous for anyone in this party to talk about disclosure of financial contributors, while the party itself takes advantage of any loopholes in the disclosure laws.

    I’m a member of the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee (ACDCC) and I was appalled to find out that current policy and practice is for the ACDCC to take financial contributions from PACs and others earmarked to help a specific candidate that has been endorsed by the ACDCC. The party uses that money to send out a mailer on behalf of the candidate in question. The mailer will say “paid for the ACDCC”, and there will be no mention of who is actually funding it.

    The point, of course, is for a person or PAC to be able to support a candidate without having to be seen as doing so. Let’s say you are the PAC of a union representing City Hall employees. Your union is in the middle of contract negotiations with the City. Mayor John Smith is running for re-election. You want to give him a big, big check to make him look kindly at you – but if you do that, or if you send out a mailer on his behalf, his opponents will pounce at him with allegations of bribery. What do you do? Well, you give the money to the ACDCC. Mayor Smith will find out where the money came from, of course, but it can’t be traced back to you, at least quickly enough for anyone to use it.

    I find this extremely unethical, but I brought this up at our last Committee meeting and apparently I’m alone on having those feelings. 🙁

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    Unions are proud of their endorsements and love to take credit for winning elections. The big boys are understandably reticent.

  • John W

    Yes, we need disclosure, disclosure, disclosure. No hiding behind meaningless campaign committee names. Every TV and radio ad opening with a meaningful disclosure announcement. Same idea for print ads. Same week online disclosure, in a format that’s easy to use.

    This year, all the focus was on billionaires supporting presidential, Senate and House campaigns. In the future, they’ll put more emphasis on building from the ground up with local and state offices, including judgeships in states that have judicial elections. Buy a judge. Won’t that be dandy?