Hearing set on $11-million election donation from Arizona nonprofit

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The next round in the legal battle over an $11-million donation from an Arizona nonprofit will be fought Tuesday.

A Superior Court judge in Sacramento set the date after a brief hearing Thursday. The Fair Political Practices Commission is seeking records that could be used to unmask the donors behind the nonprofit Americans for Responsible Leadership.

So far, the group has refused to hand over any documents, saying it has a 1st Amendment right to keep the identities of its donors secret. With the election less than two weeks away, authorities have pushed to expedite the process.

‘Each day brings more potential public harm and less public knowledge,’ said Gary Winuk, the commission’s chief of enforcement. ‘Every day more Californians are voting, but they’re not able to have information on who these donors are.’


Winuck said the donation appeared to be the largest anonymous political contribution in California history.

The Arizona nonprofit donated the money last week to the Small Business Action Committee, which is fighting Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax campaign and pushing a ballot measure to curb union influence.

California regulations say donors must be identified if they donated to nonprofits with the intention of spending money on state campaigns here.

The nonprofit, through a Virginia lawyer, has denied violating any rules, according to a document filed in court Thursday.

“[Americans for Responsible Leadership] did not and has never solicited earmarked contributions for any particular project for which it decides to spend money,’ wrote the lawyer, Jason Torchinsky. ‘As a result, no donor had reason to know that ARL would make a contribution to [the Small Business Action Committee].’

Brad Benbrook, a Sacramento lawyer for the Arizona nonprofit who represented the group in court Thursday, declined to comment after the hearing. In his court filing, he said the Fair Political Practices Commission is “bowing to political pressure” and has “forged ahead with this litigation at warp speed.”


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-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento