Outline of California with Bear Flag
Outline of California with Bear Flag

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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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