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Steve Lopez: Time to disclose the political funny money

Jason Torchinsky, an attorney Americans for Responsible Leadership, argues against a lawsuit filed by the California Fair Political Practices Commission concerning the source of an $11 million political contribution from the Arizona based nonprofit, during a hearing in Sacramento Superior Court on Oct. 31. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

Is there a silver lining in the obscene amount of money poured into California's political races?

Possibly.

Steve LopezPost-election, you've got to wonder if the funny money that fell out of the sky on a jet stream from Arizona influenced the outcome of Propositions 30 and 32, and if the donations backfired.

You may recall that $11 million, the largest out-of-state contribution in California election history, was sent late in the campaign from a conservative Arizona political action committee to a conservative political action committee in Sacramento. The money went into the fight against Gov. Brown's Proposition 30, a tax increase to help schools and other government programs, and for Prop. 32, which sought to prohibit unions from making paycheck deductions for political purposes.

Oh, the games we play in politics, where money flows like never before, thanks in part to the Citizens United decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court opened the floodgates of anonymous spending, with interest groups often defining campaign issues even more so than the candidates themselves.

In this case, the PACs refused to identify the sugar daddies who wrote the $11 million worth of checks. Nice. The spectacle wasn't already sleazy enough, so they hid the identities of the donors.

Despite this, Prop. 30 won and Prop. 32 got hammered. And Trent Lange, director of the California Clean Money Campaign, figures the shenanigans might help in the nonprofit's next attempt to require full disclosure of donors to political causes.

"Everything we've been fighting for with the California Disclose Act has been highlighted many times over, especially with the Arizona money-laundering thing," said Lange.

The Disclose Act passed the Assembly last year but didn't get to the Senate in time for a vote. Lange said revisions will be made to specifically outlaw what happened in the Arizona case, and he and his colleagues are now working on getting another bill through the Legislature this year and onto the ballot in 2014. You can learn more at www.caclean.org.

If they can pull that off, Lange said, the organization's next push will be for public financing of campaigns.

A long shot, sure. But it's already got my vote.

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Steve Lopez

Photo: Jason Torchinsky, an attorney Americans for Responsible Leadership, argues against a lawsuit filed by the California Fair Political Practices Commission concerning the source of an $11-million political contribution from the Arizona based nonprofit, during a hearing in Sacramento Superior Court on Oct. 31. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

 
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