Do-or-die time for campaign funding disclosure bill

San Francisco Chronicle, August 13th, 2014

Senate Bill 52, which faces a do-or-die moment in the California Assembly on Thursday, should not pose a tough call for lawmakers. It simply would require advertisements for ballot measures to be more forthright about their sources of funding.

But nothing is simple or easy in Sacramento when the comfort zone of special interests is involved.

SB52, authored by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, is wavering in limbo on the suspense file in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The Assembly leadership needs to know that Californians are paying attention to the fate of this bill.

It has become almost standard procedure for various interests - from right and left, business and labor - to conceal their motivations and sources of funding by hiding behind benign-sounding or even blatantly deceptive organization names.

One of the most absurd examples of duplicity came in the 2012 election, when a network of conservative nonprofit groups went through an elaborate interstate scheme to funnel $11 million into two California measures: against Gov. Jerry Brown's tax increases and for a plan to curtail the ability of unions to raise campaign cash through members' dues.

Leno said SB52, which would require a two-thirds vote for passage, has received a refreshing wave of citizen input.

"It's not just a bill, it's a movement," he said. "People are concerned that their democracy - something so precious to them - is being stolen and contorted."

It may take an additional surge of public pressure to get SB52 to the governor's desk. Voters should speak up now or brace themselves for many more volleys of confusing and deceptive campaign advertising.

What SB52 does
-- TV ads: Requires bold, prominent disclosure of the top three original funders.

-- Radio and robocalls: Replaces the common "speed reading" disclosure at the end of the pitch with simple, clear disclosure of top two original funders.

-- Print and mailers: Requires clear listing of three original funders and the name of committee paying for ad.

-- Online, billboards: Instructs Fair Political Practices Commission to develop regulations.

Bill text and staff analysis:

See the article on San Francisco Chronicle website

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