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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Assail of Dark Money Hasn’t Bent to SCOTUS

(CN) - Gov. Jerry Brown greeted the Supreme Court's latest blow to campaign-finance law by signing a California bill to enforce so-called "dark money" disclosures.

Assembly Bill 800, which Brown signed Thursday, aims to bolster the ability of the California Fair Political Practices Commission to enforce campaign-finance disclosures before and after elections.

The bill makes several changes to the Political Reform Act of 1974, allowing the state commission to conduct audits and use injunction power to compel disclosure during elections. Prior to the bill, the FPPC was unable to audit committees until after the close of general elections.

AB 800 also puts pre-election FPPC civil actions on a fast track to ensure that disclosures occur before Election Day.

"Today California took a big step towards ensuring that campaign laws are followed before the election, when it matters," FPPC executive director Erin Peth said in a statement . "AB 800 gives the FPPC additional tools it needs to get disclosure in the evolving world of campaign finance."

The FPPC, headed by a five-member commission, investigates alleged violations of the Political Reform Act - regulating campaign financing and spending, lobbyist registration and reporting, and financial conflicts of interest.

"This is a serious blow to individuals trying to conceal the identities of major donors," Peth added. "This bill enhances the FPPC's ability to be proactive in making sure campaign finance laws are being complied with during the election, when they matter most."

Adoption of AB 800 comes one day after the Supreme Court's conservative majority struck down limits on the total amount an individual may donate across political candidates and committees in an election cycle.

The decision held that aggregate limits are invalid under the First Amendment.

"An aggregate limit on how many candidates and committees an individual may support through contributions is not a 'modest restraint' at all," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote (emphasis in original). "The government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse."

A four-justice dissent complained that, coupled with a similarly divisive blessing of corporate political spending in the 2010 ruling Citizens United v. FEC, the court's holding Wednesday "eviscerates our nation's campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve."

Eradicating "dark money" has been a recent cause célèbre for the FPPC, which announced last year that corporations associated with the conservative Koch brothers owed a record fine and $15 million in disgorgement for concealing election contributions aimed at downing education tax and busting unions in California.

Koch-linked groups had jumped into California politics shortly before the November 2012 election in support of Proposition 32, a measure intended at curbing labor unions' ability to raise political cash, and in opposition of Proposition 30, a tax increase pushed by Brown.

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