We are all familiar with the infamous 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision, in which the Court ruled that it was a violation of the First Amendment for the government to prohibit political expenditures by a nonprofit corporation. The decision unleashed a torrent of dark money into our politics, threatening the integrity of our democracy and giving the wealthy an unprecedented level of influence over our elections.
One of the biggest results of that decision was the rise of political action committees (PACs) and their larger counterparts (Super PAC) – a vehicle by which nonprofit groups contribute ‘dark money’ to ballot measures and candidates in California. Dark money is money whose source needn’t be disclosed – until yesterday – at least in California.
The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that the Fair Political Practices Commission “has adopted new requirements that nonprofit groups that contribute through a federal political action committee to support or oppose ballot measures or candidates in California must disclose their donors.”
California frequently has initiatives on the ballot, and it had required disclosure donors supporting those various measures. However, it was concerned that there might be an attempt by nonprofits supporting measures to get around the ruling, so it amended the regulation to include nonprofits: “The amendment to this regulation clarifies that so-called ‘dark money,’ originating from nonprofit or other organizations whose donors are not disclosed, is not permitted in California elections.”
The regulation had required the disclosure of the top ten donors on a ballot measure. Under the new ruling, if one of those is a generic name or nonprofit, the new regulation requires the names of the top two contributors to the generic company.
No doubt this ruling will be tested in court, but it should be remembered that “the Citizens United ruling specifically called for disclosure as the antidote to claims that money corrupts…there’s nothing in the Citizens United decision that stands in the way of that.”
At the very least we are entitled to know who is behind ballot measures, and this amendment not only mandates that disclosure, but you know, as they say, ‘as goes California so goes the nation.’
We all know how destructive and corrupting the advent of PACs and ‘dark money’ have become, and while we should continue to make every effort to have the Citizens United ruling repealed, it is most likely to come down to electing a democratic president who can appoint liberal justices to SCOTUS to overturn the ruling – remember to vote Blue.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.