Amid debate among California campaign officials over whether it would hinder their accountability work, Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday signed a measure aimed at providing voters with more information about deep-pocketed groups that pay for political advertisements.
The California Clean Money Campaign sponsored Assembly Bill 249, calling it one of the most important disclosure bills in the nation. The measure, a multiyear effort supported by government transparency advocates throughout the state, will require political advertisements to include a list of the top three financial contributors to the committee paying for the ad.
“No more fine print,” Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, the South San Francisco Democrat who authored the bill, said in a statement. “California voters will now be able to make informed decisions, based on honest information about who the true funders are of campaign ads. This transparency is critical to our democracy and I am proud that California has taken this historic first step to shine the light on ‘dark money.’ Hopefully this will encourage others to follow suit.”
The head of the state’s political ethics watchdog agency and its staff members questioned whether the bill lived up to its “California Disclose Act” moniker. Staff analysts with the Fair Political Practices Commission recommended the four-member panel oppose AB 249 because it reduced the fines they can dish out to groups that violate advertising laws. The staff also argued the bill would make it harder for them to prove some campaign finance cases.
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“It’s not that the goals aren’t admirable,” Jodi Remke, chair of the commission, said at the agency’s September meeting. “I 100 percent support the goals of the bill. But as it has been said the devil is in the detail. And there are some devils in this detail.”
FPPC Commissioner Maria Audero said the staff and Remke were opposed because of an ongoing power struggle with legislators and supporters of the bill who did not heed the agency’s concerns earlier in the process.
Bob Stern, one of the state’s foremost campaign finance experts who wrote the Political Reform Act with Brown in 1974, reiterated a common saying around the Capitol: The perfect is the enemy of the good.
“What you have with AB 249 is not only good, but an excellent bill, not a perfect bill,” Stern said at the commission’s hearing. “I learned a long time ago that perfection is usually not possible, especially when it comes to legislation that has to be approved by two-thirds of the Legislature.”
After more than three hours of public comment and debate between commissioners, the FPPC declined to take a stance on the measure.