Capitol Alert: Jerry Brown signs law requiring political nonprofits identify donors

lrosen@sacbee.comMay 14, 2014 

Gov. Jerry Brown talks about revisions to his budget, specifically related to his projected increase in spending on health care and teacher pensions during a press conference at the state Capitol on Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in Sacramento.

RANDY PENCH — rpench@sacbee.com

Nonprofit organizations that make political contributions in California will have to disclose more information about the source of their money under a law Gov. Jerry Brown signed Wednesday.

Senate Bill 27 was inspired by the 2012 ballot measure wars in California, when two out-of-state nonprofit groups poured $15 million into fighting Proposition 30 and supporting Proposition 32. Because of the groups' nonprofit status, they were not required to report where their donations originally came from, leading some to describe the contributions as "dark money."

The state's political watchdog went after the groups and secured a $1 million settlement last fall when the Arizona nonprofits acknowledged an error in campaign finance reporting. But requiring politically-active nonprofits to disclose their donors required a change of state law.

And that's where Sen. Lou Correa's SB 27 comes in. The bill by the Santa Ana Democrat requires nonprofit groups disclose the names of donors who give them $1,000 or more to spend on political activity in California, if the group makes contributions of more than $50,000 in a year, or $100,000 over four years. The disclosure requirement kicks in with donations made after July 1 of this year.

The bill was sponsored by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission and supported by many open-government groups, including the California Clean Money Campaign, California Common Cause, California Forward, California Voter Foundation, and the League of Women Voters of California. Supporters hope the bill will have a ripple effect nationwide.

"Governor Brown's signature of SB 27 marks a turning point in the fight to reveal secret funders of political campaigns. It starts to shed light on dark money in California and serves as an example for the entire nation," said a statement from Trent Lange, President of the California Clean Money Campaign. "We must strengthen disclosure laws even further, because voters deserve to know who's trying to influence their votes."

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