FPPC Slams Kochs' 'Dark Money Tricks'

     SACRAMENTO (CN) - Two California campaign committees tied to the Koch brothers received and spent $15 million in "dark money" during 2012 campaigns, the Fair Political Practices Commission claims, and it wants the groups to cough it all up to the state.
     The FPPC sued the Center to Protect Patient Rights and the California Future Fund for Free Markets Yes on Proposition 32 Major Funding by American Future Fund, in Superior Court.
     It claims the Center to Protect Patient Rights made an $11 million contribution to the Small Business Action Committee PAC on Oct. 15, 2012; and a $4.08 million contribution to the California Future Fund for Free Markets Yes on Proposition 32 Fund on Sept. 11, according to the separate complaints in Superior Court.
     The money for the Small Business Action Committee was passed through intermediary Americans for Responsible Leadership, a nonprofit, without disclosing that the Center to Protect Patient Rights was the actual source of the money, one complaint states.
     The California Future Fund's money came in through the nonprofit American Future Fund, also hiding that the Center was the original contributor, the FPPC says. Attorney General Kamala and the FPPC announced settlements on Oct. 24, 2013 against the Center to Protect Patient Rights and Americans for Responsible Leadership.
     Both defendants are linked to billionaire right-wing activists Charles and David Koch, in what the FPPC referred to in a statement as the "Koch Brothers' dark money network of nonprofit corporations."
     The Kochs are not parties to the settlements.
     The FPPC's Oct. 24 letter, on letterhead, calls the Committee to Protect Patient Rights "the key nonprofit in the Koch Brothers' dark money network of nonprofit corporations, [which] was actually the source of two major contributions that were not properly reported"-the $15 million sent to the groups at issue in these lawsuits.
     FPPC Chairwoman Ann Ravel said in a statement: "This case highlights the nationwide scourge of dark money nonprofit networks hiding the identities of their contributors. The FPPC is aggressively litigating to get disclosure and working on laws and regulations to put a stop to those practices in California."
     The complaint against the Small Action Committee states: "Because the $11,000,000 contribution to defendant was made in violation of Government Code section 84301, defendant is required, pursuant to Government Code section 85701, to disgorge the entire contribution to the General Fund of the State of California. This is regardless of any finding of wrongdoing on the part of defendant.
     "To date, defendant has not disgorged any of the aforementioned contribution to
     the General Fund of the State of California."
     Similar language occurs in the second complaint.
     Prop. 30 was a ballot measure to increase taxes for schools; Prop. 32 aimed to restrict union political activity. California voters approved Prop. 30 and rejected Prop. 32 in November 2012.
     The illegal campaign contributions were discovered after the FPPC and Attorney General Harris sued Americans for Responsible Leadership - which was based on Arizona and had no history of political activity - to ensure that the source of its $11 million contribution to the Small Business Action Committee, a California independent expenditure committee, was properly disclosed to California voters.
     A subsequent investigation revealed that the Center to Protect Patient Rights was actually the source of the contribution, as well as the $4.08 million contribution to the California Future Fund.
     In a stipulated civil judgment filed on Jan. 15, 2014, the Center to Protect Patient Rights admitted that it made both the $11 million and $4 million contributions and failed to report itself as the true source of the money.
     The FPPC now seeks disgorgements from the recipients.
     The FPPC is often viewed as a fairly toothless agency that issues after-fact-fact puny slaps on the wrist. These settlements may indicate that it is being revived.