California Levies Record Campaign Finance Fine After California Common Cause Complaint

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  • Dale Eisman

A pair of Arizona non-profit groups that in 2012 funneled $15 million from anonymous donors into two California ballot initiative campaigns – and were flushed out thanks to a complaint from California Common Cause – agreed Thursday to pay $1 million in fines to the state.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission will collect the money from Americans for Responsible Leadership and the Center to Protect Patient Rights; both groups are linked to billionaire industrialists and conservative activists Charles and David Koch.

The fine is the largest ever levied under California’s campaign finance law.

“This message was sent today to those who wish to use dark money in elections: you’ll be caught!” said California Common Cause spokesman Phillip Ung. “We’ll continue to be vigilant of these deceptive tactics as more groups attempt to take advantage of loopholes created by Citizens United.”

A complaint last year from California Common Cause triggered a commission investigation of $11 million donated by Americans for Responsible Leadership to the Small Business Action Committee, a California group. The money was used for advertisements promoting the defeat of Proposition 30, a tax measure pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown, and the approval of Proposition 32, an initiative that would have curbed the ability of labor unions to raise money for political campaigns.

The commission said Thursday that the money, and a separate and similarly hidden $4 million donation to another group, the California Future Fund, actually came from the Center for Protect Patient Rights, another Koch-backed entity.

The Kochs are at the center of a network of wealthy conservative and libertarian political investors who have put hundreds of millions of dollars into electing Republican candidates across the country. Most of their work is done through non-profit groups, which at the federal level are able to hide the identities of the actual donors.

The commission said it will sue the California Future Fund and the Small Business Action Fund to recover the entire $15 million.

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