A Sacramento Superior Court judge tentatively ruled Tuesday that an obscure Arizona nonprofit must document the source of its $11 million initiative contribution, siding with the state's Fair Political Practices Commission.
The state campaign watchdog agency and Gov. Jerry Brown have railed against Phoenix-based Americans for Responsible Leadership for cloaking its contributors, saying voters deserve to know who is behind the eight-figure check. The funds went to a business committee opposed to Brown's tax initiative, Proposition 30, and supportive of a measure restricting union dues collection, Proposition 32.
FPPC chairwoman Ann Ravel has said her agency is trying to determine whether ARL violated state campaign disclosure rules, which require a nonprofit to reveal its contributors if funds were earmarked for an initiative effort. The commission is seeking everything from donor e-mails to financial transaction records to determine if a violation took place, which would trigger further action that could lead to public disclosure.
Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang wrote in a tentative ruling this afternoon that the FPPC has the authority to audit a nonprofit before an election and agreed that voters "will suffer irreparable harm" because they will never know the donors they potentially have the right to know.
She also wrote that the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in "Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission" was not applicable because that ruling did not address donor information. "Nothing in Citizens United prohibits this state-mandated disclosure," today's tentative ruling stated.
ARL attorneys argued that the nonprofit group does not need to disclose its donors to the state nor turn over documents requested by the FPPC. The attorneys said the FPPC had overstepped its powers, could not audit until after an election and targeted ARL despite ignoring past multimillion-dollar nonprofit contributions from the American Cancer Society and Nature Conservancy.
Both sides are scheduled to appear Wednesday afternoon in court. The FPPC has asserted that it is necessary to resolve the matter before the election because voters are already submitting ballots by mail and need to identify donors to inform their decisions.
If the court sticks with its ruling after tomorrow's hearing, the state wants ARL to provide the FPPC its donor information for purposes of an audit by 4 p.m. Thursday, according to Attorney General Kamala Harris' office. It is not clear how soon after that point, if a violation is found, voters would be able to learn who contributed the $11 million.