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Campaign watchdog agency calls for more disclosure by nonprofits

April 10, 2013|By Patrick McGreevy
  • Students at UC Davis line up to vote at a polling place set up at the Memorial Union on campus in November.
Students at UC Davis line up to vote at a polling place set up at the Memorial… (Autumn Payne / MCT )

SACRAMENTO -- The state’s campaign watchdog agency is supporting sweeping changes to California’s political finance laws, including proposals to lift the veil of secrecy from nonprofit groups that are spending record amounts of money on political campaigns in the state.

The state Fair Political Practices Commission voted Wednesday to back pending legislation that would address concerns about an Arizona nonprofit organization that contributed $11-million contribution to a ballot measure campaign fund before November's election.

“It is important to the public to know who is funding campaigns,” Commission Chairwoman Ann Ravel said in a statement. ``Disclosure of political contributions and expenditures is the essence of the Political Reform Act, which was enacted to restore confidence in government through such disclosure.’’

The commission sued the group Americans for Responsible Leadership but the group only disclosed the money came from two other nonprofits, without disclosing where they got the money.

Federal law does not require nonprofits to disclose their source of funds. The $11-million donation was used to fight Gov. Jerry Brown's successful tax-hike plan, Proposition 30, and promote an unsuccessful initiative that would have limited political spending by unions, Proposition 32.

The FPPC agreed to support a half dozen pieces of legislation, including AB 914 by Assemblyman Richard Gordon (D-Menlo Park).

Gordon's bill would require nonprofit groups that spend 10% of their money in a year on California elections to disclose contributions they make and the names of the original donors who provide $10,000 or more to the group.

In a written report to the panel, Zackery P. Morazzini, its general counsel, cited the Arizona contribution as an example of a problem that needs to be addressed, adding “this bill would provide the public with much needed disclosure that in some cases can be nonexistent.’’

Other bills supported by the panel would give it more power to audit campaign accounts and allow it to bring civil action against state legislators, judges and city officials who violate conflict of interest laws involving public contracts.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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