Calif. Election Watchdog Brings Light to Dark Money

     SACRAMENTO (CN) – The source of “dark money” campaign donations given by nonprofit groups and other organizations in California elections must be disclosed, California’s campaign watchdog said.
     The Fair Political Practices Commission voted Sept. 17 to enforce more stringent reporting requirements on nonprofits that donate to politicians or ballot measures through out-of-state political action committees.
     The amendment aims to stop groups that previously donated to politicians through federal PACs and took advantage of a nondisclosure clause that allows them to hide the sources of campaign donations. The FPPC says the change will prevent dark money from streaming into California elections and restore public confidence in state elections.
     “The commission will be vigilant in defending the public’s right to know the true source of funding in any campaign,” FPPC chair Jodi Remke said in a statement. “Between continued diligent enforcement of our laws and full, proper disclosure I hope it helps the public make informed decisions and restore their faith in government.”
     The dark-money amendment will be in effect for the 2016 state election and will force groups to disclose where the donations originated. The election watchdog has been investigating and monitoring out-of-state nonprofits taking advantage of the campaign-donation loophole following the 2012 election where two Arizona nonprofits donated more than $15 million to fight a proposed state-tax increase.
     An FPPC investigation found the two Arizona nonprofits were tied to the Koch Brothers’ nonprofit network and failed to properly report the massive donations. The Koch Brothers’ nonprofits received a record $1 million fine from the FPPC in 2013 and according to FPPC data, $29 million in dark money from 150 unnamed donors was spent on the 2012 general election.
     The FPPC also approved an amendment to its top-ten donors list that will require groups to disclose their two highest contributors.
     Currently, many PACs register under generic names that are benign and intended to reveal little about the organization, such as “Good Government California.” Under the new rules, Remke says “Good Government California” would be forced to reveal its top contributors over $50,000.
     “The public is frustrated by people and groups hiding behind generic committee names that fail to disclose their true sources of funding,” said Remke. “This is another step towards the type of smart disclosure we are constantly seeking at the commission.”
     The FPPC also handed out $31,000 in fines for various campaign reporting violations, including a $6,000 fine to San Diego County Superior Court Judge Gary Kreep’s election committee. Kreep’s committee was accused of failing to disclose two campaign-expense statements totaling $8,000.

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