Capitol Alert: Assembly passes bill requiring more nonprofit campaign disclosures

jwhite@sacbee.comFebruary 20, 2014 

A bill requiring greater transparency from electioneering nonprofits is one step away from Gov. Jerry Brown.

Lawmakers have sought to fortify campaign spending rules since out-of-state nonprofit groups poured $11 million into the 2012 election cycle, a flexing of financial muscle that eventually earned the entities a $1 million California Fair Political Practices Commission fine.

"Simply put, our law needs to catch up with the way in which nonprofits found to skirt reporting requirements," Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, said in bringing to the floor a bill designed to force more disclosures.

Unlike donations to political action committees, contributions to nonprofit groups do not require disclosure. Advocates of tougher laws say the current system enables a shell game, with donors able to influence elections but cloak their identity. (Here is a good depiction of how it works).

Senate Bill 27, by Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, seeks to address the situation by laying out circumstances in which politically active nonprofits must announce donor lists.

In a show of their supermajority might, Assembly Democrats mustered 55 votes -- one more than the two thirds required to pass the measure and send it back to the Senate for a concurrence vote. The bill has an urgency clause that would make it take effect prior to the 2014 election.

"If you're going to give money to a nonprofit and you know it's going to be used for campaign purposes, just disclose it," Correa said after the vote. "It's a very simple concept, which is that people need to know who is supporting what causes or which candidates."

The measure drew opposition from Republicans, who argued that donors should be allowed to remain unidentified to protect themselves from retaliation. Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine, cited a a 1958 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing donors to the National Association for the Advancement of Coiored People to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal.

"You have a right to participate in this democracy. You have to a right do it anonymously," Wagner said.

As the Assembly was acting on Correa's bill, the Senate approved a bill by Gordon that also seeks broader campaign finance disclosures.

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