California, Transparency and the Super PACs

On Saturday last week California Gov. Gerry Brown signed the state’s new Disclosure Act (AB249) into law, which will come into play for the state’s 2018 gubernatorial/legislative elections and ballot measure campaigns.  The requirements of the new Act, reported by Covington, will see a host of new transparency laws introduced, going above and beyond federal requirements. Most significantly, the Act will require almost all campaign advertising to include visible disclosure of who funded the message. Crucially, the law will also be tightened on ballot measure ads and candidate ads funded by outside groups, because whilst a degree of disclosure requirements previously existed, it was permissible for the information to be hidden in ‘small print’. But now on TV and video campaign ads, the tightening of rules will see donors names appear in a black box on roughly 1/3 of the screen, for around 5 seconds.

Gov. Gerry Brown hailed the move, adding that he hoped it would encourage others to follow suit. And echoing those who had fought to get the bill through, Brown argued that the move will enhance democracy in California enabling voters to make ‘informed decisions, based on honest information about who the true funders of campaign ads are’.

Proponents of the new measures, who have cited concerns over an increase in campaign spending of over $1 billion between 2012 and 2016, believe the requirements are a vital curb against the growing influence and anonymity of ‘super PACs’.  The growth was seen to be fueled by the 2010 Supreme Court ruling during Citizens United vs. FEC, affirming the right for corporations to make independent contributions to political candidates. Beyond California, in Florida last week the City of St. Petersburg issued its intent to clamp down on ‘super PACSs’ even further, passing an ordinance which will seek a $5,000 limit on contributions to groups that raise money for independent expenditures or electioneering communications in its city elections. However the Supreme Court’s judgement of the Citizens United vs FEC case in 2010 casts significant doubt over the constitutional viability of such a plan. But nevertheless, it’s clear that Gov. Gerry Brown’s approval of California’s Disclosure Act will help further fuel debate as other states watch on with interest.

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