California breaks new ground in informing voters about political spending

A new California law stiffens disclosure requirements for the funders of political ads. Its backers call it the strongest disclosure law in the nation.

The measure is the latest example of two clear trends in campaign finance reform: With the Supreme Court banning most efforts to limit big money in politics, the fight is increasingly being waged over voters’ rights to at least know who’s funding the political ads they see. And with nothing happening in Washington, states and cities are where the action is.

On Saturday. Gov. Jerry Brown (pictured) signed the California Disclose Act, which requires most campaign ads to clearly display their three largest funders of over $50,000. Crucially, the law doesn’t allow funders to hide behind generically named committees  — you know, those outfits with nondescript names like “The Fund for American Solutions” — that mean nothing to voters.

“Transparency in elections is critical to our democracy and AB 249 brings that transparency to California, giving our voters the opportunity to make informed decisions based on honest information,” state Rep. Kevin Mullin (D), the bill’s sponsor, said after it was passed last month.

Backers of the new law say voters have been essentially left in the dark about who was behind the barrage of ads supporting or opposing statewide ballot initiatives. Last year, $473 million was raised for ballot initiative campaigns, according to the LA Times.

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