California Democrats continuing march toward campaign transparency

150 150 Alexandra Bjerg


It is only weeks into this new legislative session and Democratic state lawmakers have already introduced a handful of bills aimed at increasing campaign disclosure requirements and transparency in California’s elections.

In the wake of a controversial $11 million donation, allegedly laundered through three out-of-state groups, to a Sacramento-based committee opposing Brown’s measure to raise taxes, Prop 30, and supporting Prop 32, a measure to limit unions’ political fundraising ability, Democrats are determined to curb these anonymous political donations.

Altering the 40 year old law governing disclosure of political campaign contributions, the Political Reform Act of 1974, requires a two-thirds vote. With a supermajority in both houses, this year Democrats have a better chance of expanding disclosure requirements and the Fair Political Practices Commission’s power to enforce them.

Several previous attempts to modernize the act, such as last year’s AB 1148, commonly referred to as the DISCLOSE Act, have failed.

Senators Mark Leno, D-San Francisco and Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, have introduced a new version of the DISCLOSE Act, Senate Bill 52. Under the legislation, the top three funders of political ads must be identified not only in the ad, but also on the campaign’s website.

“We saw evidence in the most recent election cycle of unnamed organizations throwing around large sums of money in order to confuse California voters,” said Leno in a statement. “This legislation is vital to protecting the integrity of our democratic process and ensuring fair elections in our state,” added Hill.

Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, has also introduced legislation that would improve California’s campaign finance transparency. Assembly Bill 45 requires a nonprofit who funds campaigns to disclose donors contributing $50,000 or more within six months of an election. The bill would also authorize the FFPC to seek injunctions against nonprofits to compel groups to release the names of their donors.

“Without legislative action, we will continue to see last minute ‘money bombs’ flowing into California elections without informing voters where this money is coming from,” said Dickinson, in a prepared statement. “The public has a right to know the source of the money so informed decisions can be made at the ballot box.”

Senators Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, have drafted legislation, SB 3, to close the loophole in the state’s campaign finance law that enabled the Arizona group to make the secretive $11 million donation a month before the November election.  

If passed, Senate Bill 3 would require nonprofits that donate more than $100,000 to a political campaign throughout the course of a year to reveal all donors that made the contribution possible.

“Laundering money through nonprofits in an attempt to avoid transparency is fundamentally undemocratic,” said Yee in a statement. “Our democracy should not be bought and sold in shady backroom deals.”

California’s campaign finance laws are among some of the strictest in the nation, but if the past election taught us anything, it’s that large donors are still able to funnel millions into California elections through nonprofits without having to reveal themselves.

Voters require full disclosure and transparency in order to be able to make informed decisions at the polls. Californians deserve to know who is trying to influence elections.   

But are enough state lawmakers truly committed to greater transparency and accountability in political spending to vote to unmask even their own campaign donors?


Alexandra Bjerg

All stories by: Alexandra Bjerg