California should lead the way in open spending in politics 

A case in Sacramento Superior Court led to the public disclosure of who donated to an Arizona-based nonprofit group that has dumped millions in California to affect the outcome of two ballot measures.

The nonprofit Americans for Responsible Leadership made an $11 million donation to the Small Business Action Committee PAC. That group is actively working to defeat Proposition 30, the tax measure put on the November ballot by Gov. Jerry Brown, and to help pass Proposition 32, a measure that would curb the ability of California unions to spend money on political activities.

Americans for Responsible Leadership has been sued by the California Fair Political Practices Commission, which tried to make it reveal who was behind the $11 million donation. Under California’s campaign contribution regulations, nonprofits that donate money for political purposes are supposed to reveal their financial backers.

But the donor group had claimed that the U.S. Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which expanded the constitutional rights of corporations, meant that it should not have to reveal its backers until a later deadline — one that happened to fall after next week’s election.

This is not a trivial matter in California. If the original donors had been left unreported, this could have been the largest anonymous political donation since 1974, when California’s existing regulations about political spending disclosures were put in place.

An initial ruling issued Tuesday by the Sacramento court will allow the FPPC to audit the Arizona group. The court said that the group cannot hide behind the Citizens United ruling. This initial ruling backed what we said: To play in California such groups should have to follow California’s rules.

And no matter which side prevails in this lawsuit, we encourage state Sen. Leland Yee to follow through on his pledge to introduce legislation in December that would firm up the state’s rules regarding nonprofits making political donations.

This lawsuit highlights how California has taken a lead in matters related to political spending, including making sure that contributions are reported so that citizens can discover who supports and opposes candidates for office and pro and con arguments for ballot measures. Yee’s proposal would push California further toward combating an unfortunate U.S. Supreme Court ruling that has sent floods of money into the political arena largely unchecked.

You might have been a little confused if you happened to see a new commercial about Proposition 37, the state initiative that would require labeling of genetically modified foods sold in California. The ad said that The San Francisco Examiner endorsed a “no” vote on the measure.

In fact, we too were confused about the advertisement, since we endorsed the measure — a position that we continue to hold. We believe that everyone deserves to know what is going into the food that they eat.

And while this measure does not tackle all of the myriad food-labeling issues that truly ought to be adopted, it takes a meaningful step in the right direction.

We have said it before, but now we will say it again to clear up any misconceptions: Vote yes on Prop. 37.

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