The Dark Money Forerunner Of Secret California Millions - 2012-12-03
In late October and early November, a dramatic legal battle played out in California between the state's campaign finance watchdog and a little-known Arizona non-profit named Americans for Responsible Leadership.It began on Oct. 15, when Americans for Responsible Leadership gave a whopping $11 million to a California group involved in the fights over a pair of Golden State ballot initiatives. The stakes were high — one proposition was Gov. Jerry Brown's tax-hike initiative, the other would have prohibited labor unions' from raising political money from payroll deductions. California Democrats and progressives were incensed that the millions of dollars coming from another state had been given anonymously. As a 501(c)4, or so-called "social welfare" group, Americans for Responsible Leadership could and did keep its donors secret under federal law.
"Eleven million dollars doesn't just drop out of the sky," Derek Cressman, vice president for state operations of the advocacy group Common Cause, told a California news outlet in October.
A few days after the donation was made, Common Cause's California chapter filed a complaint with the state's Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). Soon thereafter, the FPPC sued Americans for Responsible Leadership, in an attempt to force the group to turn over records and answer questions. The FPPC wanted to determine if Americans for Responsible Leadership's large, anonymous donation violated not federal disclosure laws, but state ones. If a violation had in fact occurred, it became clear, Americans for Responsible Leadership's secret donors could potentially end up unmasked.