SACRAMENTO – Republican state Senators on Monday blocked a bill that would require more disclosure of those who contribute money through nonprofit groups to affect California elections, the first legislative setback for Democrats since they lost their supermajority two weeks ago.
With all Republicans either voting against the bill or withholding a vote, the tally was 26 to 4, one vote short of the two-thirds majority to approve SB 27 as an urgency measure.
"It's hypocritical," Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) said after the vote. "I'm concerned that unless we regain a supermajority the Republicans will continue their agenda of hiding the identities of multimillionaires who are donors."
Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) was granted permission Monday to bring his bill back for another vote before the end of the session in August, but Republican leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar said he does not think the measure is necessary and he opposes the urgency clause that would allow it to take effect July 1.
"I don't think this is a law that needs to be changed. One could argue the existing laws have worked," Huff said.
The bill was introduced in response to a controversy over $15 million funneled to California campaigns in 2012 by a network of nonprofits. Huff noted that the controversy became a campaign issue and resulted in fines against nonprofit groups involved.
He said he could support the bill if the urgency clause was removed and it took effect in 2015. The early effective date means donors this year "do not have time to understand that the rules of engagement have changed."
However, Correa and Democrats said the bill should affect this year's election. "Voters must know exactly who is trying to sway their vote, without which there is no accountability," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).
The Senate initially approved the bill last year when Democrats had a supermajority, but it was amended in the Assembly, requiring a second vote. The supermajority was lost this month when Sen. Ronald S. Calderon of Montebello took a leave of absence to fight a federal indictment alleging he accepted nearly $100,000 in bribes to affect bills.
Huff said the Democrats could have approved the bill earlier when it had a supermajority, but were instead trying to turn it into a "partisan" issue.
Correa's bill would require an organization to provide information about its donors if it spends or contributes at least $50,000 in one year or more than $100,000 in four consecutive years. The measure also would require committees on ballot measures, if they raise at least $1 million, to maintain a public list of the top 10 contributors who gave $10,000 or more.