California Supreme Court, FPPC Take a Stand Against Dark Money

Statement of CalPIRG Director Emily Rusch


Statement of CALPIRG State Director Emily Rusch:

CALPIRG applauds our State Supreme Court and Fair Political Practices Commission for taking a stand against the secret campaign contributions pervading our elections in California and across the country.

The revelation today that Americans for Responsible Leadership’s $11 million contribution to a committee working to defeat Props 30 and 32 came from other, dark money non-profits was less than satisfying for the public, who deserves to know who the true funders are. This money laundering scheme is like a set of Russian dolls – with layer after layer preventing the public from revealing the true source of funds.

When we lose transparency in our elections, voters lose the opportunity to properly judge the credibility of political communications based on the motivations of who is paying for them. This lack of transparency is particularly concerning with the recent track record of extremely wealthy donors and corporations deciding to invest millions of dollars to influence the outcomes of California elections. Californians have the right to know if a billionaire insurance industry executive, or an oil company, or an electric utility, is bankrolling the support or opposition to a ballot measure or candidate.  

Gov. Brown and our newly elected legislature should champion state legislation next year that would:
1. Require corporations that spend in elections both directly or through non-profits to disclose that spending, and
2. Require all organizations spending money to influence election campaigns, including 501(c)4s and 501(c)6s, to disclose the original source of those funds used for electoral purposes.

Transparency is an important first step to mitigating the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which reversed long-standing law preventing corporations from spending directly on elections. As a result of that decision, non-profit organizations like Americans for Responsible Leadership, are now able to anonymously funnel large contributions from wealthy individuals and corporations to influence our state and federal elections.

However, the logic behind the Supreme Court decision was based in part on the premise that corporate spending in elections would be transparent to the public, ironically and irresponsibly failing to acknowledge the lack of state and federal laws requiring such disclosure.

Now is California’s opportunity to eliminate the possibility of secret contributions. 

Additionally, Congress must pass a constitutional amendment to clarify to the Supreme Court that in a democracy, the size of your wallet should not determine the volume of your voice. Transparency alone will not fix the problem of big money in our elections. Our new analysis released on Friday found that a handful of mega-donors are having outsized influence in this year’s election. Over 97% of all individual super PAC contributions came from just 1900 donors giving $10,000 or more.