California Throws Some Light on Dark Money

     SACRAMENTO (CN) – The source of “dark money” donations from PACs, nonprofits and other groups in California 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 donated to politicians through federal PACs and took advantage of a nondisclosure clause that allows them to hide the source of the donations. The FPPC said the change will prevent dark money from streaming into California 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. 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,” FPPC Chairwoman Jodi Remke in a statement.
     The dark money amendment will take effect for the 2016 state elections and will force groups to disclose where the donations originated. The FPPC has been investigating out-of-state nonprofits taking advantage of the campaign donation loophole since the 2012 election, when two Arizona nonprofits donated more than $15 million to fight a tax increase.
     The FPPC found the 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. According to FPPC data, $29 million in dark money from 150 unnamed donors was spent on the 2012 general elections.
     The FPPC also approved an amendment to its top 10 donors list that will require groups to disclose their two highest contributors. Many PACs register under benign generic names that are 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 contributors who gave more than $50,000.
     “The public is frustrated by people and groups hiding behind generic committee names that fail to disclose their true sources of funding,” Remke said. “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 campaign reporting violations, including a $6,000 fine to San Diego County Superior Court Judge Gary Kreep’s election committee. Kreep’s committee is accused of failing to disclose two campaign expense statements totaling $8,000.

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