California has some of the best public disclosure of independent political spending in the country, according to a report released yesterday, but the state ethics watchdog wants to go further.
The National Institute on Money in State Politics conducted a nationwide study of state independent expenditures – spending by political interests to influence an election independently from any candidate's campaign.
Unions, political parties and other interests spent $121.5 million on California independent expenditures from 2005 to 2010, more than in any other state, according to the report. California and eight other states – including Colorado, Washington and Oklahoma – got a perfect score on disclosure from the institute. Six states, on the other hand – including Alabama, Indiana, New Mexico and South Carolina – earned a zero for disclosure.
Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission, said California can do even better.
"I think we can do more and we should do more, because there are things that are slipping through the cracks," she said.
Ravel said she plans to ask commissioners next month for permission to sponsor a bill to improve oversight of independent expenditures. While state committees must report contributions and expenditures within 24 hours during the 90-day period before an election, those rules affect local committees starting only 14 days before an election. Ravel would like to see all committees subject to the 90-day provision.
"The local level is particularly important because it can really make a difference in an election," Ravel said.
Ravel also would like to require the disclosure of the top two contributors above $50,000 on any print advertisement paid for by an independent expenditure committee. Currently, that rule applies only to broadcast ads and direct mail, she said.
Independent committees backing ballot measures sometimes disappear after an election, and the commission lacks the power to go after the committee's officers if they committed violations. Ravel would like to see that change, too.
"There’s nothing in the law that holds them culpable," she said. "It’s been problematic in terms of enforcement."
|California Working Families||$8,215,377|
|California Democratic Party||$7,640,999|
|California Teachers Association||$3,440,000|
|California Republican Party||$3,335,298|
|Working Californians to Support Jerry Brown for Governor||$2,630,875|
|California Statewide Law Enforcement Association||$2,237,276|
|California Correctional Peace Officers Association||$2,183,304|
|Republican State Leadership Committee||$1,600,000|
|Los Angeles Police Protective League||$1,019,537|
Source: National Institute on Money in State Politics