State ethics czar wants disclosure when campaigns pay bloggers
Alarmed that political groups are secretly funding bloggers and Internet websites to promote or attack candidates, the head of the state’s ethics watchdog agency said Thursday that she will ask that such payments be disclosed.
Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission, said she plans to have her agency initially request the disclosure on a voluntary basis but said that, to be effective, such disclosures likely will end up having to be required by law.
"I think we have to examine disclosure for bloggers and other Internet pundits who receive funding for their endorsements," Ravel said during a conference on campaign funding co-sponsored by USC. "If we made a connection between a funder and somebody’s opinion so that opinion isn’t really that of the blogger, or the perception is that it might not be, people should be able to know about it."
Ravel said such disclosure should also apply to websites like a recently created, anonymously funded one that draws attention to criminal charges pending against Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon, a candidate for Assembly.
Ravel acknowledged that her proposal might be controversial with some free speech advocates and bloggers, while others question whether blogs are worth the attention of regulators.
Former state Sen. Steve Peace, now head of the California Independent Voter Project, says Republicans read Republican-oriented blogs and Democrats read those aligned with their party’s ideology. "I don’t think the blogs are very convincing," Peace said at the conference. "They talk to people who already agree with them."
Ravel said some bloggers have admitted to her that they have received undisclosed funding from partisan interests.
In 2009, Chip Hanlon, chief executive of the blog site Red County, announced that one of its writers had been let go after it was discovered the writer was taking payments from a consultant for gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner "for favorable coverage." Although candidates must disclose their spending, the true source of the funding is hidden when payments are made to consultants, who then pay the bloggers.
-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento