12/21/2012 10:37 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

California Campaign Donation Bills Would Increase Disclosure

Following the controversy in California's initiative campaigns over an $11 million donation from a secretive, out-of-state group, Democratic lawmakers have begun introducing legislation to increase disclosure requirements and the power of the Fair Political Practices Commission to enforce them.

Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, announced legislation Thursday that would require donors of $50,000 or more to a nonprofit group to be identified if the contribution is made within six months of a California election and if the non-profit makes a large donation to a campaign within that same period.

"This is the kind of information that voters and the public need and deserve to have before they cast their votes, not find out after," Dickinson said.

Assembly Bill 45 would also require the secretary of state to make campaign and lobbying filings available to the FPPC and would authorize the FPPC to seek court injunctions related to disclosure.

Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the FPPC, said the bill would provide the FPPC the "clear ability" to seek those injunctions. When the FPPC sued the Arizona group Americans for Responsible Leadership over its $11 million donation earlier this year, Ravel said, "we were acting somewhat creatively in interpreting our statutes" to permit such a lawsuit.

Facing a California Supreme Court order, Americans for Responsible Leadership disclosed the source of its contributions: two other out-of-state groups whose backers are unknown.

Ravel said her office is still investigating the donation, which was made to a committee opposing Gov. Jerry Brown's ballot measure to raise taxes and supporting a separate campaign finance measure.

State Sens. Mark Leno and Jerry Hill also announced that they have introduced legislation that would require broader disclosure of a campaign's major funding sources in political ads.

"We saw evidence in the most recent election cycle of unnamed organizations throwing around large sums of money in order to confuse California voters," Leno, D-San Francisco, said in a prepared statement. "The only way to stop this covert financing of campaigns is to require the simple and clear disclosure of the top three funders of political ads so voters can make well-informed decisions at the ballot box."

Ravel has said she plans to push next year for changes to the Political Reform Act, and she appeared with Dickinson at his news conference at a Sacramento school. Ravel said she has yet to take a position, however, on Dickinson's bill or on Senate Bill 52, the legislation Leno and Hill introduced. She said the FPPC intends to evaluate a variety of proposals.

Call David Siders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1215. Follow him on Twitter @davidsiders. ___