In a column today, Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee laments that SB 27, a campaign finance reform bill by Democrat State Senator Lou Correa, was unable to pass the Legislature, losing by one vote in the State Senate. The bill was intended to address disclosure of donors to out-of-state organizations that contribute to campaigns and ballot measures in this state. It would close a loop-hole (created and perpetuated by liberal Democrats over the years) in our campaign finance system that allows nonprofit organizations to make contributions to ballot measures but not disclose the source of their funds under certain circumstances. In 1998, Rob Reiner’s “Proposition 10” tobacco tax measure benefited from millions of dollars in such contributions from nonprofit organizations, including out-of-state organizations that failed to disclose – legally – the source of their funds.
In 1998, liberals raised no hue-and-cry about the non-disclosure where the underlying issue was taxing cigarettes, but when an out-of-state nonprofit made a record contribution to try to help defeat Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30 tax hike “for the kids” (Walters has also written that the measure has been used instead for prisons, more welfare, and to hike public employee salaries) it seemed all hell broke loose at the FPPC about disclosure, and after a series of lawsuits and even a criminal investigation by the Democratic Attorney General, sources were disclosed, but under a cloud of what the current law really requires.
Correa’s SB 27 was supposed to remedy the situation going forward. But the failure of the legislation means there has been no clarity brought to the situation, and apparently the current precedent is, if the nonprofit is donating to raise taxes, there will be no consequences at the FPPC, but if the nonprofit is donating to stop a tax increase or lower taxes (or fix pensions), expect, again, all hell to break loose at the FPPC unless the group takes the extra step of disclosing all its underlying donors, which is not really required under certain circumstances in current law.
Given all the hoopla, and Democrat control of the Legislature, how could SB 27 have been defeated by one vote in the Senate? Walters says it failed because of “slow motion handling by its putative supporters.” That slow motion may have been because the California Teachers Association, which really controls things in Sacramento, and has spent over $300 million on politics and lobbying in the state since 2000, didn’t want the law to be reformed. CTA has lots of fingers stuck deeply into the pie of California’s state budget and government. Changing a system it currently dominates (Chevron, in comparison, has spent a little more than $90 million on politics in the same period) might be viewed as dangerous to CTA. A review of CTA’s legislative positions on its website reveals positions on dozens, maybe 100 bills, but absolutely no position taken on SB 27. Connecting the dots, it is fair to say that if CTA wanted SB 27 to pass the State Senate, the bill would have received the one vote it needed to advance to the Governor’s desk, where Brown is on record as supporting such reform. For those who advocate “rapid and complete disclosure of campaign contributions,” the shame is on the California Teachers Association.