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Disclosure Request Is Denied

The state cannot compel backers of Prop.54 to reveal donors before the election, a judge rules.

September 20, 2003|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — A Superior Court judge on Friday denied state regulators' request for a preliminary injunction to compel backers of Proposition 54 to disclose names of their donors before the state recall election.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Cecil ruled that the state Fair Political Practices Commission had failed to make a strong enough case that voters would suffer harm if they did not know the proposition's funding sources before the election. The proposition will share a ballot with the gubernatorial recall vote, whether it is held in October or March.

Cecil said donors to the nonprofit group sponsoring the initiative, Ward Connerly's American Civil Rights Coalition, could suffer potentially greater harm from the invasion of privacy resulting from a disclosure.

The commission sued Connerly and the coalition Sept. 3, demanding that they be required to disclose the funding sources for the proposition, which would bar state agencies from collecting and using most kinds of racial and ethnic data.

The demand for immediate disclosure marked a first for the commission, which typically acts after an election.

Commission representatives say they believe the measure's backers are violating campaign finance laws by not reporting the sources of more than $1.9 million in donations.

Connerly, a Sacramento businessman and University of California regent, maintains that the money was given to his organization for general purposes, not specifically for the initiative, and that the group need not name its donors.

Commission Chairwoman Liane Randolph expressed disappointment after the ruling.

"The voters are the ones who lost out," Randolph said outside the courtroom.

"They're the ones who need to know who's funding major ballot measures and they should be able to have that information before the election."

Commission attorney William J. Lenkeit said the group feared the ruling could "open up a Pandora's box, allowing any campaign committee or individual to do the same thing and avoid disclosure."

Connerly, who did not attend the brief hearing, called the decision a "major vindication." In a telephone interview, he said the organization has disclosed donations it received specifically for Proposition 54, but the group also receives general contributions to support its initiatives and other efforts in several states.

"The FPPC has really dealt with us unfairly, and I think the judge by this action today has indicated how weak their case really was," he said.

Connerly and his supporters are now advocating a ballot measure in Michigan that would be similar to California's Proposition 209, the statewide initiative in 1996 that banned affirmative action in public agencies.

Commission attorneys said they would appeal the decision and pursue the lawsuit but said there was little likelihood of disclosure before the election, unless it is delayed until March.

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