Ariz. donation to Calif. called ‘money laundering’

An $11 million campaign contribution from an Arizona nonprofit that gave money to a group fighting the Proposition 30 tax initiative represents the largest case of campaign “money laundering” in state history, California’s political watchdog agency charged Monday.

Americans for Responsible Leadership reported the source of its contribution to a political action committee that is active in the November election after the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously Sunday that the group must turn over its records.

But the disclosure, which came right before Election Day, revealed little about the actual source of the money. It shows that ARL received the $11 million from a group called Americans for Job Security through a second intermediary, the Center to Protect Patient Rights. Both are federally registered nonprofits that are not legally required to disclose the source of their funds.

Americans for Job Security has been active in the presidential race, pouring millions of dollars into swing states for independent expenditure ads supporting Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and other GOP candidates; the Center to Protect Patient Rights distributed more than $44 million to more than two dozen conservative advocacy groups during the 2010 midterm elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a research group that tracks money in politics.

It reported that the group’s president, Sean Nobel, also is a political operative for the billionaire brothers Charles and David H. Koch, who have given millions to conservative causes. Nobel did not immediately return messages by email and phone to his Phoenix-area number Monday.

The Arizona group did not initially disclose that it received money from those two groups, although it filed an amended state report Monday.

“Under California law, the failure to disclose this initially was campaign money laundering,” the California Fair Political Practices Commission said Monday in a news release.

California’s campaign finance watchdog enforces the state’s campaign finance and disclosure laws and can issue fines and penalties for noncompliance, although it refers legal violations to law enforcement agencies. The board’s chairwoman, Ann Ravel, was appointed to the post by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Attorney General Kamala Harris, a Democrat, and the state’s campaign finance watchdog had been seeking the donation records to determine whether Americans for Responsible Leadership is complying with state campaign disclosure laws.
Harris said the Arizona group’s admission of the source of its funds, though opaque, is a first step.

“We are going to continue to take a look at this and examine the full scope of the conduct involved,” she said.

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