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The Fair Political Practices Commission is asking Gov. Jerry Brown to tighten disclosure rules for independent expenditure committees through a bill that cleared the Legislature with bipartisan support.

The measure, Assembly Bill 481, targets a segment of politics that has grown significantly the past decade - independent political campaigns that support or oppose candidates or ballot measures but are not coordinated by them.

FPPC Chairwoman Ann Ravel touts the bill "a major step to ensure accountability and public disclosure of independent expenditures."

Corporations, unions and other groups can spend unlimited sums on independent expenditure campaigns. An FPPC report in June 2010 found that $127 million had been spent the past decade on such efforts.

AB 481, sponsored by the FPPC, takes aim at independent expenditure committees by requiring them to:

• Assume liability through their principal officers for election law violations, so that the FPPC can hold someone accountable even if the committee disbands before wrongdoing is discovered or investigated.

• Report expenditures above $1,000 within 24 hours if they occur within 90 days of an election. The requirement currently applies only if the spending involves a state candidate or proposition, not a local race or ballot measure.

• Disclose on any political advertisement the committee's name and its top two donors of $50,000 or more. Current law requires such disclosure on broadcast ads or mass mailings, but not on newspaper, billboard of other print ads.

• Verify that no unreported contributions or reimbursements have been received to make an independent expenditure, and that there is no coordination with a candidate or ballot measure committee. The provision is meant as a safeguard against money laundering.

Introduced by Democratic Assemblyman Rich Gordon of Menlo Park, AB 481 received no opposition in the Senate and was approved by the Assembly, 64-11.

"The growth of independent expenditures makes appropriate disclosure all the more necessary," Gordon said. "In order for voters to make fully informed decisions, it is important they know who, if not the candidate or ballot measure campaign, is paying for political messaging -- and in what amounts."

Brown has until Sept. 30 to sign or veto the bill.

* Updated at 5:10 p.m. to add quote from Assemblyman Rich Gordon.


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