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Controversial Arizona nonprofit releases name of contributors -- more nonprofits

November 5, 2012 |  9:01 am

Jason Torchinsky, an attorney for Americans for Responsible Leadership.

In a stunning reversal, an obscure Arizona nonprofit at the center of a legal battle over secret political contributions released on Monday morning the identity of its contributors, which it had been fighting tooth and nail to keep secret.

But the disclosure did little to shed light on who was behind the $11-million donation to a California campaign fund. The Arizona group, Americans for Responsible Leadership, identified its contributors only as other nonprofits.

The money was passed from Americans for Job Security to the Center to Protect Patient Rights to Americans for Responsible Leadership, according to state authorities. From there, the money was sent to a California campaign committee fighting Gov. Jerry Brown's tax-hike plan, Proposition 30, and pushing a separate ballot measure to curb unions' political influence, Proposition 32.

As of Sunday night, the Arizona nonprofit Americans for Responsible Leadership appeared ready to fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to avoid disclosing any records to state authorities by election day on Tuesday.

The Fair Political Practices Commission has been trying for two weeks to audit the group to determine whether it is improperly shielding the identities of its donors. California regulations says contributors must be identified if they give to nonprofits with the intention of spending money on state campaigns.

Americans for Responsible Leadership reached an agreement with the commission to reveal its contributors on Monday morning, allowing state authorities to skip the audit process. However, the disclosure of more nonprofits did little to satisfy activists who were seeking contributors' true identities.

Derek Cressman of Common Cause, which originally filed the complaint against the Arizona nonprofit, called the group "irresponsible, cowardly money launderers."

Still, Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the Fair Political Practices Commission, said in a statement that the disclosure was "a significant and lasting victory for transparency in the political process.”

Lawyers for the nonprofit have previously argued that the group was being unfairly targeted for an audit that would violate the group's 1st Amendment rights.

State authorities sued for the records, and in a matter of days the legal battle had rocketed to the California Supreme Court. On Sunday, justices issued an unusual weekend decision ordering the nonprofit to begin handing over records that day.

After the order, Americans for Responsible Leadership appeared ready to resist again, signaling its plan to ask for an emergency stay from the U.S. Supreme Court.

"This proceeding raises critical First Amendment issues regarding the ability of an organization to freely associate and speak on vital election-related matter," a lawyer wrote in a letter to the court on Sunday night.

But lawyers backed away from that plan overnight. In a statement on Monday morning, the Arizona nonprofit's legal team did not explain why they stopped fighting the court order, saying only that a settlement was reached after "late-night discussions."

ALSO:

State Supreme Court wants Arizona donors audited

Ann Ravel fights for Arizona records in biggest battle of her term

Arizona group plans appeal to U.S. Supreme Court in funding case

-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento
twitter.com/chrismegerian

Photo: Jason Torchinsky, an attorney for Americans for Responsible Leadership, argues against a campaign finance audit on Wednesday in Superior Court in Sacramento. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

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