Sacramento Bee Editorial: Outside bucks seek to swing two ballot props

Sacramento Bee Editorial
Oct 23, 2012

Supporters of Proposition 32 claim that their campaign finance initiative "cuts the money tie between special interests and politicians." It's a lie. And an $11 million donation from a shadowy Arizona nonprofit illustrates why.

Proposition 32 would ban unions and corporations from using automatic paycheck deductions to raise money for political purposes. While that might sound like a balanced way to blunt big-money politics, this initiative would hit labor unions disproportionately. Corporate interests are increasingly dumping money into independent expenditure campaigns, which Proposition 32 would not touch. Nor would Proposition 32 stop scam nonprofits from influencing elections. Indeed, this initiative is now the beneficiary of one.

This week, a newly incorporated Arizona nonprofit, Americans for Responsible Leadership, gave $11 million to pass Proposition 32 and defeat Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative, Proposition 30. Previously, the Iowa-based American Future Fund gave $4 million for advertising in support of Proposition 32.

Who are the donors behind these multimillion-dollar power plays? It is impossible to know. As The Bee's Kevin Yamamura reported Thursday, nonprofits under state law can shield donors, so long as the money is not earmarked for a specific purpose or ballot measure.

It's possible that Americans for Responsible Leadership collected its money through bake sales and donations from grandmothers, with no specific purpose in mind. And if you believe that, we have a bridge in Arizona to sell you. With little doubt, this group's money is coming from a rich individual or individuals who don't want their fingerprints on an effort to swing a California election.

More aggressive enforcement by the Internal Revenue Service would help, but the IRS, which aggressively audits individuals and business, is toothless when it comes to political activity by bogus nonprofits. The IRS gives them free rein to flaunt their tax-exempt status and shield the identities of their donors.

For voters, the best way to blunt this kind of secretive campaign spending is to vote against Proposition 32. To that end, we'd like to extend a special thanks to the moneybags behind Americans for Responsible Leadership, whoever they are. By dumping $11 million into California politics, they have offered the strongest argument yet for defeating Proposition 32 and holding out for a truly balanced way to blunt the influence of special interests.

The Bee's past stands

"Our recommendation to reject Proposition 32 is not a vote of confidence for public employee unions … Lawmakers should take action to make it easier for employees who disagree with union politics to opt out of making campaign donations. But Proposition 32 would tilt the system in favor of corporations and business trade groups."

– Sept. 23, 2012