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Secret Arizona donation failed to dent Democrats and unions

November 8, 2012 |  7:00 am

Brown election night speech

In the end, the $11-million donation from an obscure Arizona nonprofit provided a reliable source of controversy while failing to tip the scales in any California campaigns.

The money went to oppose Gov. Jerry Brown's tax hikes and push a ballot measure to curb unions' political fundraising. But voters approved the governor's tax plan, Proposition 30, and rejected the effort to reduce labor's influence in California politics, Proposition 32.

In fact, Brown’s campaign team said Wednesday that the donation may have been a political gift. The governor turned the anonymous contribution into a talking point in many of his stump speeches.

“They gave us the issue while hitting us in the nose,” said Sean Clegg, who worked for Brown’s campaign.

Also, despite the $11-million donation, conservatives didn’t have the financial resources to match Democrats and labor unions. Brown’s campaign heavily outspent its opponents, and unions flooded the airwaves to help sink Proposition 32.

The Arizona nonprofit, Americans for Responsible Leadership, gave the money to a California campaign fund in October. The state’s campaign finance watchdog sued the group in hopes of learning the source of its funds, leading to a furious court battle that became one of the most closely watched sideshows in the final days before the election.

The Arizona nonprofit eventually disclosed its donors, which turned out only to be other nonprofits. State authorities said they will continue to pursue the case, including exploring possible civil or criminal penalties for what they called “campaign money laundering.”

Meanwhile, Americans for Responsible Leadership had better luck in Arizona elections. The group spent only $1.5 million to oppose a sales tax increase and an open primary system similar to the one implemented in California this year. Both measures were rejected by voters.


California Supreme Court wants Arizona donors audited

Disclosure of Arizona group's donors yields more mystery

Brown found path to Prop 30. victory in a divided California

-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento

Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown thanks supporters on election night in Sacramento. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press