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California DISCLOSE Act signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown to combat dark money

Fires, hurricanes, the Trump-Corker spat, and the fate of the JCPOA with Iran dominated the news this weekend. Amidst all of the bad news, though, there was some good news: California has a tough new law that takes aim at dark money in politics, thanks to Governor Jerry Brown’s signature.

SACRAMENTO, CA — Today, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the landmark California DISCLOSE Act (AB 249), the nation’s most comprehensive election disclosure law.

“No more fine print,” said the bill’s author, Speaker pro Tem Kevin Mullin. “California voters will now be able to make informed decisions, based on honest information about who the true funders are of campaign ads. This transparency is critical to our democracy and I am proud that California has taken this historic first step to shine the light on ‘dark money’. Hopefully this will encourage others to follow suit.”

Assembly Bill 249, authored by Assemblymembers Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo) and Marc Levine (D-San Rafael), and sponsored by the California Clean Money Campaign, requires ballot measure ads and independent expenditure ads for or against candidates to clearly and prominently disclose the identity of their top three funders, and includes first-in-the-nation follow-the-money rules to make ballot measure ads show their true funders.

“With the quiet gesture of a signature, Governor Brown has loudly proclaimed California to be the national leader on the most important issue of our era: taking our democracy back from the special interests and restoring it to the people,” said Trent Lange, President of the California Clean Money Campaign, sponsor of AB 249.

“Every American who cares about democracy owes Governor Brown, Assembly Speaker pro Tem Kevin Mullin, and all the bold leaders in the California Legislature of both parties who helped AB 249 pass an enduring debt of gratitude.”

Thanks to AB 249, it will no longer be possible for big corporations or other moneyed interests to conceal their identities using shell PACs in ballot measure or independent expenditure advertising. This is a breakthrough worth celebrating.

NPI congratulates the California Clean Money Campaign and all the activists who worked tirelessly to make AB 249 a reality. This important new law will lead to fairer elections in the Golden State and hopefully inspire other states (like Washington, Oregon, and Idaho) to follow suit by enacting similar laws of their own.

At the beginning of this month, before Brown had acted on the bill, the San Jose Mercury News published an excellent story recapping how the bill made it through the California Assembly and the California Senate despite several obstacles, which ended with this well-written explanation of what AB 249 does:

What it would do: Assembly Bill 249, by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo, proposes sweeping changes to disclosures on campaign ads. It would require the three largest contributors (of $50,000 or more) to be listed on ballot measure ads or ads about candidates by outside groups.

A new look: On video and TV, the disclosures must appear against a solid black background in a clear font that is not all-caps, fill the bottom third of the screen and stay up for a full five seconds. Each of the three major funders’ names must appear on a separate line. Disclosures on radio ads would need to be made with the same speed as the rest of the ad — no more speed-talkers.

Print, TV, video, radio, mass mailers, robocalls: The bill, which Gov. Jerry Brown has yet to sign into law, would apply to print, online, TV and radio ads as well as mass mailers and robocalls. Requires radio ads and robocalls to name the two largest funders.

Here in Washington, Democratic State Senator Andy Billig has sponsored similar legislation several times (which NPI has supported), but it has regrettably never made it out of the Legislature. In 2018, though, it may have better prospects with a Democratic Senate majority. NPI is committed to working with Senator Billig to ensure that Washington State takes action to combat dark money in politics.