On KQED’s News Fix: California’s Top Political Watchdog Goes Out With a Bang

Update, 12:15 p.m. Thursday: The California Fair Political Practices Commission has announced $1 million in fines against organizations that funneled $15 million to California groups in an attempt to sway two initiative campaigns last year (some details on the groups, the money and the initiatives are in our original post below). From the FPPC’s announcement on the fines:

The FPPC and California Attorney General today announced a record civil settlement against the Center to Protect Patient Rights (CPPR) and Americans for Responsible Leadership (ARL), two nonprofits operated as part of the “Koch Brothers’ Network” of dark money political nonprofit corporations. The settlement requires CPPR and ARL to pay $1 million to the State General Fund for their failure to disclose two dark money, independent expenditure contributions in the 2012 election to oppose Proposition 30 and support Proposition 32.

“This case highlights the nationwide scourge of dark money nonprofit networks hiding the identities of their contributors,” said FPPC Chair Ann Ravel. “The FPPC is aggressively litigating to get disclosure and working on laws and regulations to put a stop to these practices in California.”

The case was initiated after the FPPC and Attorney General filed suit against ARL prior to the November 2012 election to provide records to ensure the source of an $11 million contribution from ARL, an Arizona nonprofit with no history of political activity in California, was properly disclosed to California voters. The day before the election, ARL disclosed that Americans for Job Security (AJS) and CPPR were the source and intermediary, respectively, of the $11 million contribution to the Small Business Action Committee (SBAC), a California independent expenditure committee.

This resulted in a joint investigation by the FPPC and the Attorney General’s office that revealed that CPPR, the key nonprofit in the Koch Brothers’ dark money network of nonprofit corporations, was actually the source of two major contributions that were not properly reported. The first was a $4.08 million contribution to the California Future Fund (CFF), made through the American Future Fund (AFF) as an intermediary on September 11, 2012. The second was the $11 million contribution made to SBAC through ARL as an intermediary on October 15, 2012.

The FPPC is also requiring recipients of the $15 million in illegal “dark money” to “disgorge” it — that is, hand it over to the state.

Original post: You might remember that late in last year’s election campaign, a mysterious-sounding group in Arizona dropped $11 million into the effort to defeat Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative, Proposition 30, and to pass Prop. 32, a measure that aimed to curtail union political contributions.

Under the pressure of a lawsuit by the state Fair Political Practices Commission and a state Supreme Court order, the group, calling itself Americans for Responsible Leadership, ‘fessed up. It admitted it was just the intermediary for the funds, which turned out to come from yet another shadowy Arizona group, the Campaign to Protect Patients Rights (both appear to be part of a secretive web of organizations funneling millions of dollars to right-wing candidates and causes).

Under California law, the transaction was money laundering pure and simple. The FPPC said it was “the largest contribution ever disclosed as campaign money laundering in California history.”

Today, nearly a year after the first details of the money laundering was disclosed, the Los Angeles Times reports the FPPC will levy fines totaling $1 million in the case. The fines, which the Times says FPPC chief Ann Ravel will announce this afternoon, are the biggest ever imposed for violations of the state’s campaign laws. The announcement comes as Ravel prepares to leave Sacramento to join the Federal Elections Commission.

  • castello

    Somebody is doing their job. Nice!


Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke is a blogger, reporter and editor for KQED News, responsible for online breaking news coverage of topics ranging from California water issues to the Bay Area's transportation challenges. In a newsroom career that began in Chicago in 1972, Dan has worked as a city and foreign/national editor for The San Francisco Examiner, editor at Wired News, deputy editor at Wired magazine, managing editor at TechTV as well as for several Web startups.

Since joining KQED in 2007, Dan has reported, edited and produced both radio and online features and breaking news pieces. He has shared in two Society of Professional Journalists Norcal Excellence in Journalism awards — for his 2012 reporting on a KQED Science series on water and power in California, and in 2014, for KQED's comprehensive reporting on the south Napa earthquake.

In addition to his 44 years of on-the-job education, Dan is a lifelong student of history and is still pursuing an undergraduate degree.

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