Mercury News editorial: Let California Voters See Who Funds Campaign Ads
California lawmakers have an opportunity to shine light into the shadows that can hide the big money donors who pay for political campaign ads.
The California DISCLOSE Act, sponsored by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Los Angeles, would require political advertisements on TV, radio, mailers or websites to list the three largest donors to the political action committee paying for the ad. Merely listing the PAC's name -- such as "Citizens Together," a title so vague it is meaningless -- wouldn't be enough. Whether these contributors are corporations, unions, other organizations or individuals, their names would appear in big, bold print. Lawmakers should pass this measure.
Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted limits on the amount of money that organizations and corporations can donate to PACs in federal elections. That ruling handed even more power to rich contributors paying for political ads in the 2012 presidential race. It's hard to evaluate attack ads when we don't know who's paying for them.
California already requires more disclosure than federal laws do, but most of the information goes to the secretary of state's website, which many voters never see. Brownley's bill, which is endorsed by California Common Cause, would mandate that donor names appear in the ads. The PAC placing the ads would also be required to maintain a website showing its top five donors. This measure would apply to state and local elections only.
The bill, AB 1148, faces a vote Thursday in the Assembly appropriations committee. This is a step toward giving voters the information we need to identify who's backing political campaigns.
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