The state Senate on Thursday approved a measure that would force nonprofit groups and others to disclose the true source of large contributions to California campaigns, but agreed to delay its enforcement.
The bill, which now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown for consideration, is in response to a controversy in the 2012 election when conservative groups from Arizona poured $15 million into the state to fight Brown's tax hike and support an ultimately unsuccessful move to reduce unions' political power.
Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) introduced SB 27, which 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 over four consecutive years. The measure also would require committees on ballot measures, if they raise at least $1 million, to release a list of the top 10 contributors who gave $10,000 or more.
“This bill will ensure that the voters get this information in a timely manner no matter how many hands the money flows through,” Correa told his colleagues.
Senate Democrats lost a supermajority in March when they suspended three senators facing criminal charges, so they had to scale back the bill to win Republican votes to achieve the two-thirds majority required for passage. As revised, it would not apply to donations made before July 1.
Republicans including Senate GOP leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar joined Democrats in passing the bill on a 28-7 vote. One of the bill's opponents, Sen. Joel Anderson (R-San Diego), said, “I fear that this cuts to our right of freedom of association.”
The measure was touted by campaign reform activists including Sarah Swanbeck, legislative affairs advocate at California Common Cause.
“Secret spending by billionaires and special interest groups have cast a dark cloud over campaign disclosure, compromising the integrity of our elections,” Swanbeck said. “This critical piece of legislation will lift the veil that hides the identity of secret contributors who attempt to influence California elections.”