In labor’s battle last year against California Proposition 32, $15 million dollars was contributed to the Yes on 32 campaign in the final weeks before the election.
The money was contributed by the Center to Protect Patient Rights and Americans for Responsible Leadership, two out-of-state non-profit organizations, neither of which disclosed the true source of any of the funds. Both groups have known ties to the Koch Brothers, multi-billionaires with a network of political organizations that funneled millions of dollars to ultra-conservative causes and candidates in the past.
The day before the election, an operative linked to the Koch brothers admitted that he had laundered the money through the Koch network, but refused to disclose who specifically made the contributions. The No on 32 campaign took aggressive action to expose the true source of these unprecedented “dark money” contributions, leading to an investigation by the California’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) and the California Attorney General.
The No on 32 Campaign was able to defeat Proposition 32 on Election Day, but has also kept the pressure on to expose the wealthy ultra-right conservative donors that secretly bankrolled the Yes on 32 campaign. The FPPC and California’s Attorney General continued to investigate, and thousands signed a petition last summer urging a speedy conclusion.
On October 24 of this year, the FPPC announced a record fine of $1 million dollars on the two shadowy non-profits that illegally funneled $15 million into the Yes on 32 campaign. In addition, the FPPC demanded that the two groups which accepted the $15 million in contributions, Joel Fox’s Small Business Action Committee and the California Future Fund, disgorge the money and pay the full amount to the state. They have so far refused, and they also have not disclosed the names of the original donors.
See the FPPC press release on the matter.
From the beginning, the people supporting Proposition 32 claimed that they wanted to ‘stop special interest money’. At the same time, they spent over a year executing a complicated scheme to funnel millions of dollars into their campaign coffers while dodging campaign finance disclosure laws to hide the identities of wealthy conservative ideologues that support the ultra-conservative billionaire Koch brothers.
The FPPC action offers undisputable proof: wealthy right-wing conservatives and corporate executives are using every means possible try to game California’s election process while hiding their true identities from the voters.
The FPPC is sponsoring legislation to make sure this sort of deception doesn’t happen again. The three proposed laws will go a long way toward stopping future “dark money” schemes in their tracks. When the Legislature has the chance to vote on them next year, the No on 32 Campaign will be asking for union members’ help to ensure that these good ideas become law. However, there is every reason to expect that the opponents of transparency will continue to find creative ways to spread dark money, and defenders of democracy must remain vigilant and expose them at every turn.