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California State Bill Would Bring Transparency To Political Campaigns

Follow the money: Transparency in politics

Follow the money

California elections mean candidates spent big money trying to get elected. Governor Gray Davis and his opponents spent over $130 million in the 2002 governor’s election. Davis spent almost $78 million, the most money spent by a politician in a non-presidential race. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger raised $23.6 million during his first year in office, double what Davis had raised during his first year. California voters are not happy with the state of elections in their state. Almost two-thirds of voters were unhappy with their choices for governor, 2002 polls revealed.

When campaign contributors give money to a candidate, they expect results once that candidate is elected into office. So, the candidates we vote into office are by and large bought and paid for by big money. Campaign financing transparency is something that is badly needed in the most populous state in the union. Some California state politicians have entered a bill into the state assembly to stop the election madness.

The bill is AB 249, or the California Disclose Act. The bill would amend the Political Reform Act of 1974. It requires ballot measure ads and ads about candidates paid for by outside groups to show the three largest funders of $50,000 or more in large print. That applies to all types of ads, including television, radio, print, mass mailers, robocalls and online ads. With radio and robocalls, the two largest funders must be clearly named. A two-thirds vote of the legislature is needed for it to pass.

Closing loopholes

AB 249 replaced AB 14 and used language from a 2016 bill, AB 700 to close three loopholes, according to California Clean Money:

  • It removes the narrow definition of earmarking in AB 700. Analysis of the bill showed that the definition of earmarking would make the law too complex and could allow ballot measure ads to lie to voters about who paid for the ads.
  • It closes a loophole in both AB 700 and AB 14 for candidate and political party ads. In AB 700, political parties and most candidate-controlled committees were stripped from the current code definition of advertisement.
  • It lowers earmarking exemption for members dues from $7,300 to $500. The Senate Appropriations Committee amended AB 700 to exempt dues, assessments, fees and other similar payments to a membership organization up to $7,300 a year from earmarking.

Beyond closing the loopholes in AB 700, there is another reason why AB 249 is needed. Last year, AB 700 passed the State Assembly with a 60 to 15 vote but ended up one vote short of passing the Senate. In other words, it failed.

There will be an uphill battle to get AB 249 passed. Big corporations have a vested interest in seeing the bill fail, as do labor unions which are fighting the bill. Similar bills have failed four times in the last seven times years. It “should be an easy fight, “as Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) told the Davis Enterprise. “Everybody should know who is funding campaigns, who is funding independent expenditures,” she added.

Indeed, every California voter should know who is funding campaigns. And if AB 249 is successful, they will know.


Image credit: Damian Gadal, courtesy Flickr

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