Knowledge is power. When a person meets with us, argues for or against legislation, and asks for our votes, we and our legislative colleagues insist on knowing who they are representing, because that’s critical in helping us assess the credibility of the arguments.
But when voters do the same thing we do – vote to make laws through ballot measures – it’s not always clear who’s asking for their votes. Special interests often hide on campaign ads behind happy-sounding committee names that leave voters in the dark about their real agendas.
That’s wrong, and that’s why overwhelming bipartisan majorities of the Legislature passed AB 249 by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo, better known as the California DISCLOSE Act.
Under AB 249, ballot measure committees and political action committees supporting or opposing candidates would be required to display their top three funders in a clear and conspicuous manner, not in fine print. Most importantly, it would make sure true funders supporting or opposing ballot measures are disclosed on ads, even when their money is moved from one group to another before being spent.
AB 249 has been a long time coming. For nearly seven years, grass-roots reformers led by the California Clean Money Campaign have advocated to strengthen advertising disclosure rules. The most recent amendments also close loopholes that would have allowed membership organizations like chambers of commerce and unions to cloak ad disclosures by attributing “earmarked” contributions to individual dues-paying members rather than the organization itself.
If Gov. Jerry Brown signs AB 249 into law – and we urge him to do so – California will have the strongest campaign disclosure law in the country by a wide margin. That’s why of the many elections-related bills our committees heard this year, none had come close to AB 249’s level of public support.
Voters should have the right to know the identities of people and organizations asking for their votes. By no longer allowing special interests to hide behind meaningless committee names, AB 249 would serve as an example to the nation for achieving more meaningful campaign disclosure.
Sen. Henry Stern, D-Canoga Park, firstname.lastname@example.org, and Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, Assemblymember.Berman@assembly.ca.gov, are chairs of Senate and Assembly committees that oversee elections.