California prides itself on being an incubator for democracy reform, so perhaps there’s reason to hope that the state’s attack this week on the scourge of “dark money” in our elections will spread across the country.
Starting next year, the California Disclose Act, signed into law on Saturday by Gov. Jerry Brown, will tell state voters who is paying for much of the political advertising on television and radio across the state.
“The California DISCLOSE Act is a common-sense proposal that will increase transparency, which is why it passed out of the legislature with strong bipartisan support,” said California Common Cause Executive Director Kathay Feng. “We hope this legislation inspires further reform nationally and in other states.”
Americans across the political spectrum favor stronger money in politics disclosure requirements, Feng added. Since the Supreme Court decided Citizens United in 2010, essentially removing limits on political spending, nonprofit “social welfare” groups have poured millions of dollars from hidden “dark money” donors into campaigns in California and across the country.
The new California law requires that the three largest funders of political ads costing $50,000 or more be clearly identified on all print, electronic, TV, and radio advertisements for ballot campaigns or placed by independent groups. It requires radio ads and robocalls to name the two largest funders.
While the Disclose Act does not cover ads placed by candidates or political parties - a concession made to win the bill’s passage - it is significant that citizens will be able to see the actual names of ad funders; the old law allows those donors to hide behind front groups with innocuous sounding names like “Californians for a Better Tomorrow.”
Despite those limitations, the California Clean Money Campaign, and a coalition of advocates, including Common Cause, consider it a big step forward after seven years of trying to pass different versions of the Disclose Act.
“While Congress and federal agencies fail to act to require more transparency in the post-Citizens Untied era, the Disclose Act will continue California’s leadership in building a strong and transparent democracy,” said Nicolas Heidorn, Legislative Affairs Director at California Common Cause.
Issues: Money in Politics