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Bracing for a flood of independent expenditures for candidates or causes in this year's elections, California's political watchdog agency is seeking to tighten state law to require more personal liability.

FPPC Chairwoman Ann Ravel said that legislation is being drafted, at the agency's behest, to require that principal officers of independent expenditure committees be held personally responsible for violations of election law.

The bill would take effect immediately if passed by a two-thirds supermajority of each legislative house and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Independent expenditure committees can spend unlimited sums in elections without coordinating their efforts with the campaigns of candidates or causes they support or oppose.

Two years ago, the FPPC released a report that concluded $127 million had been spent on independent expenditures since 2000. The money comes primarily from labor unions, business groups, political parties, wealthy individuals, and Indian tribes with casinos, the FPPC said.

State election law requires 24-hour disclosure of all independent expenditures of $1,000 or more that are directed toward state candidates or measures within 90 days of an election. Advertisements also must state the name of the committee and its top two donors of $50,000 or more.

Legislation is needed because independent expenditure committees often cease operation after an election, leaving only an empty shell of a committee to prosecute for any violations of election law. The FPPC's proposal would change that by making principal officers personally liable.

The FPPC contends that passage of the pending legislation not only would assist in enforcing elections law, it also would serve as a deterrent to violating election disclosure and other requirements.

"If they know there will be a consequence, then they'll think twice" about breaking the law, said Gary Winuk, FPPC chief of enforcement.


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