State campaign regulators will make their case in court Tuesday one week before the Nov. 6 election for why an Arizona-based nonprofit should divulge information tied to an $11 million California donation whose donors remain secret.
The Fair Political Practices Commission sued little-known nonprofit Americans for Responsible Leadership on Thursday, asking the group to provide emails, text messages and financial records showing how it raised the $11 million.
The organization donated the funds to a business committee that has played a pivotal role in opposing Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative, Proposition 30, and supporting a measure to tighten union dues collection, Proposition 32. Brown has accused Americans for Responsible Leadership of laundering funds for unknown interests.
FPPC Chairwoman Ann Ravel said the watchdog agency is trying to determine whether the group violated state campaign rules that require nonprofits to disclose their donors if money is earmarked for a particular political cause. The FPPC says it has audit and investigatory powers that compel the group to provide such information.
A Sacramento-based attorney for Americans for Responsible Leadership, Bradley Benbrook, said Thursday the FPPC was overstepping its powers and cannot access such information.
In a procedural hearing Thursday, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Barry Loncke told both sides to provide written arguments by Monday before a Tuesday morning court appearance to further decide the matter.
State attorneys argued that a quick court decision is necessary because voters need ample donor information as they weigh choices on the November ballot. FPPC enforcement officer Gary Winuk said the group's name tells voters nothing about its purpose, and he noted that California voters are already submitting ballots by mail without enough information.
"Each day brings more potential public harm for each day we're not able to inspect the record," Winuk said.
But Benbrook asserted that the FPPC does not have audit authority until after an election. He suggested the FPPC had already gone beyond an investigatory role and predetermined that the group violated campaign finance rules without sufficient evidence.
"They've already decided," Benbrook said of the FPPC. "This group has First Amendment rights, and the First Amendment rights can only be interfered with if the rules are very clear that the FPPC has this authority."