Federal judge upholds most of Prop. F campaign disclosure rules

A federal judge on Thursday upheld most of San Francisco’s Proposition F, a voter-approved law that set stronger rules for disclosure of donors to political campaign advertisements.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco turned down most of a campaign committee’s bid for a preliminary injunction blocking the measure, which the committee claimed violated its right of free speech.

Breyer wrote that when applied to larger ads, the new rules serve “the important governmental interest in informing voters about who is paying for political advertising” and do not unduly burden free speech. But the judge issued a narrow preliminary injunction blocking the rules when applied to small printed ads less than 5 inches by 5 inches, and in radio and televisions ads of less than 30 seconds.

In the case of the smaller ads, the judge said, the required disclosures would have consumed most of the time or space in the messages. The city had agreed to the narrow injunction.

Proposition F, known as the Sunlight on Dark Money Initiative, was approved by San Francisco voters in November. It requires newspaper and broadcast campaign ads to list donor names and amounts for the top three contributions of $5,000 or more.

When one of the top donors is itself a committee, the ads must also identify the top two contributors to that committee.

The lawsuit challenging the measure was filed by a committee that supports Proposition B, an earthquake safety bond measure on the March 3 ballot. A lawyer for the committee was not immediately available for comment.

Former San Francisco Ethics Commission Chair Peter Keane, who was a co-author of the initiative, said in a statement, “We are delighted that the judge has upheld Proposition F and resoundingly rejected this cynical lawsuit aimed at keeping voters in the dark so that secretive SuperPACs can hide the real agenda behind their campaign ads.”

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