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The California DISCLOSE Act of 2015

Why is an organization dedicated to campaign finance reform now campaigning to clean up political advertising?  Here's the backstory: The statewide defeat in 2010 of Proposition 15, a pilot program for full public financing of candidates for Secretary of State, was attributed in part to an avalanche of extremely deceptive slate mailers.  For example, voters were led to believe that certain influential organizations, such as the Democratic Party, did not support Prop 15, when in fact they did.  The California Clean Money Campaign  decided that if public-financing legislation is ever to experience success at the ballot box, this sort of thing needs to be cleaned up first.

With the Supreme Court's devastating Citizens United decision unleashing unlimited, often anonymous spending on federal campaigns and making things even worse, and the federal DISCLOSE (Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections) bill stalled in Congress, then-Assemblywoman Julia Brownley introduced the California DISCLOSE Act.  Based largely on the federal bill, DISCLOSE will require every political ad for or against a ballot measure to reveal who is REALLY paying for it - clearly and unambiguously, in the ad itself.  Top funders of political messages will be shown (or heard, in the case of radio) on the ads; additionally, the forces behind slate mailers will be made much more transparent.  The California DISCLOSE Act, AB 1148, began its journey through the legislature in January, 2012, when it passed the Assembly Elections Committee and then the Appropriations Committee too. Unfortunately, it was narrowly defeated on the Assembly floor.

The bill was re-introduced into the Assembly with a new number, and went through that house again as AB 1648. The bill passed two Assembly Committees and, after being amended to pass the Assembly floor vote, was too far behind schedule to be seen in the Senate at all. (See that sad story in "Foiled and fooled again" in the News, click on the menu at left.)

The California DISCLOSE Act was then called SB 52 under the authorship of Senators Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), and successfully passed the Senate in 2013. As a 2-year bill (more about that on our blog), it passed the Assembly Elections and Appropriations Committees. SB 52 next was supposed to go to the Assembly floor.

But massive, ugly, wrong-headed opposition by Big Money Labor during the last days of the 2014 legislative session succeeded in intimidating enough former Democratic supporters in the Assembly that the bill could not make the 2/3 majority and was dead again. Year five, anyone?

You bet. DISCLOSE is back, as AB 700 (Gomez & Levine). The campaign was up and running, with lots of new energy and plans to win this time. Local volunteers were already out at the Sunday Streets season opener on the Embarcadero March 8th. Our first SF Working Group meeting of 2015 was Saturday, March 21. The next meeting was April 18th in the Mission, at SF Earth Day.

The new bill, however, is being stalled by the very players who killed it last year. Despite the effort to simplify the suggested language (the passage of a bill last year mandating that top funders be revealed on the Sec of State's web site means that to satisfy the requirements of AB 700, advertisers merely have to transfer that info to their political ads - no bothersome follow-the-money research or expense involved), AB 700 STILL has no official language in it. So there's no reason for our group to meet now - there's no bill. Looks like the stalling will go on so long that they'll "run out of time" AGAIN - and make it a two-year bill. Year six, anyone?

The CA DISCLOSE Act has been endorsed by statewide organizations including CA Common Cause, CA Church IMPACT, CA Green Party, the League of Women Voters of California, Sierra Club California, and many more statewide and local organizations. It is sponsored by California Clean Money Campaign. 84% of Californians want this kind of disclosure.

• Keep checking our calendar for what else we are doing.

San Francisco Working Group for Clean and Fair Elections