A Sacramento Superior Court judge scheduled a court date for Tuesday -- one week before the Nov. 6 election -- to consider whether an Arizona-based nonprofit must provide transaction data related to an $11 million donation made this month.
The state Fair Political Practices Commission sued little-known nonprofit Americans for Responsible Leadership to obtain information related to the eight-figure check and determine whether the group violated campaign disclosure laws. The group donated $11 million to a business committee that is fighting Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative, Proposition 30, and supporting a measure to restrict union dues collection, Proposition 32.
After a brief hearing in a packed courtroom today, Judge Barry Loncke asked both sides to submit court filings by Monday ahead of a hearing Tuesday morning, saying the court needed more time to consider whether Americans for Responsible Leadership must provide records.
State attorneys argued that a quick court decision is necessary because voters need ample donor information as they weigh choices on the November ballot. FPPC enforcement officer Gary Winuk said the group's name tells voters nothing about its purpose, and he noted that California voters are already submitting ballots by mail without enough information.
"Each day brings more potential public harm for each day we're not able to inspect the record," Winuk said.
But Americans for Responsible Leadership attorney Bradley Benbrook asserted that the FPPC is overstepping its powers and does not have audit authority until after an election. He suggested the FPPC had already concluded the group had violated state campaign finance laws and was possibly violating confidentiality requirements by speaking to the media.
"They've already decided," Benbrook said of the FPPC. "This group has First Amendment rights, and the First Amendment rights can only be interfered with if the rules are very clear that the FPPC has this authority."