Gov. Jerry Brown campaigns at Sacramento City College for his ballot tax… (AP photo/Sacramento Bee/Randy…)
Here it is, not yet Halloween, and Jerry Brown is already calling for an unmasking.
He wants to know exactly who’s forked over $11 million in Arizona mystery money to influence California’s politics by trying to take down Brown’s Prop 30. It’s the equivalent of unmarked bills, and he says it’s against state law.
“I think the law of California is violated in this respect: A committee, when it gets money, particularly of $11 million, has a duty to understand where it comes from. Is this money from a foreign source? That's illegal. Is it money from terrorists? That's illegal. Or what? So, in order to assure yourself that everything is up and up, you've got to find out where it is."
It’s the old Watergate political adage about following the money to find out who’s doing what, and why. But what do you do when the money is invisible?
Brown, who also used the term “money-laundering’’ to describe the dough, may know whose money it is. KCBS in San Francisco says it already knows who’s behind the mask, and it isn’t the Lone Ranger.
The station reports that, while the donors may be secret, their group, named Americans for Responsible Leadership, has a familiar cast: a Virginia political outfit led by big time GOP attorneys who’ve done work for George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, the Republican National Committee – and who also represent the billionaire frères of the right, the Koch brothers, who have been dropping lots of dollars against unions elsewhere in the country, too – like Wisconsin.
The same California PAC that got that $11 million is also apparently using some of that money to try to shove Proposition 32 into the victory column in California. It would ban unions from contributing to candidates, and limit organized unions’ abilities to raise political money through paycheck deduction, even if the union members say they can.
The thing about Prop. 32 is that it says the ban applies to corporations, too, so it must be fair and balanced, right? Except corporations don’t really use paycheck deductions to collect political money. It’s like arguing that a law barring anyone from breast-feeding in any public place can’t be discriminatory because it doesn’t single out women. Never mind that they’re the only ones who breast-feed.
What “Mother Jones” has called “dark money,” anonymous piles of mazuma, is what you can wind up with when the moneyed interests lobby to get no-limits rules for political donations, but also work just as hard for laws that keep the sources of that money walled off from public view.
In at least one case, anonymous money has backfired. Billboards in Ohio and Wisconsin have been popping up with the large, stern admonition, “Voter fraud is a felony!” Many of the billboards are reported to be in minority- and student-populated neighborhoods, and at the bottom, it says they are funded by an unspecified “private family foundation.”
But after complaints in Milwaukee that the billboards were all about suppressing the vote, Clear Channel, the mega-radio and billboard company, agreed to take down billboards and replace them with get-out-the-vote ads. Clear Channel said it reviewed the billboards and found that they violate its policy against anonymous political ads. [Wasn't there a name on the check that paid for those billboards? I guess we won’t be finding out now.]
Given the ominous alarms that the GOP has been sounding about voter fraud, Democrats in Congress are challenging Republicans to back up their contentions.
Maybe those billboards could be put to better use where there have been actual reports of such problems this political season.
Say, in Virginia, where Colin Small, who was being paid GOP money to supervise voter registrations, was arrested on 13 criminal counts, including obstruction of justice, on suspicion of throwing away voter registration forms. [One source said the man may have panicked after missing a filing deadline and thrown the forms away so he would not be fired.]
Or in Florida, where election officials in nine counties report potentially "hundreds" of fraudulent voter registrations submitted by a consulting firm hired by the GOP.
Or Colorado Springs, Colo., where a video recorded a young woman who was working as a contractor for that same firm telling a shopper that she was with the county clerk’s office, but was only working on behalf of Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
Or maybe they could set up the billboards in Arizona, home of Strategic Allied Consultants, which had subcontracted the company working with the Virginia GOP to run registration drives and which had also hired Colin Small.
Strategic Allied Consulting is run by Nathan Sproul, a Republican operative whose name has surfaced in past elections, and whose firm was being paid several million dollars by the GOP for voter registration efforts this year, agreements the GOP has since canceled.
The Times has reported that Sproul’s companies have faced charges in other elections for allegedly submitting forged forms and dumping Democratic registrations, but points out that none of the charges was proven.
Sproul is also listed as the founder and general partner of Lincoln Strategic Group in Tempe, Ariz., whose website says that it is “a full service political and public affairs management firm who know how to shape your message, sway opinion and motivate voters. Our experience and can do spirit will help you overcome any obstacle.’’
Questionable GOP voter registration
ENDORSEMENTS: The Times' recommendations for Nov. 6
Last chance to register to vote, and hear Obama and Romney debate