On Tuesday afternoon, a Sacramento Superior Court judge tentatively ruled that Americans for Responsible Leadership -- an Arizona-based not-for-profit -- must disclose the source of its $11 million donation to a group opposing Proposition 30, a compromise tax hike plan developed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and supporters of the "Millionaires Tax," the Sacramento Bee's "Capitol Alert" reports (Yamamura, "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 10/30).
Last week, the state Fair Political Practices Commission filed a lawsuit to determine whether ARL illegally concealed the identity of donors who gave money to the Small Business Action Committee, which opposes Prop. 30. SBAC also supports Proposition 32, a campaign finance measure.
State regulations say that not-for-profits cannot conceal donors' identities if their contributions go toward state campaigns.
ARL filed a 14-page brief arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a campaign speech lawsuit, shows "the indisputable notion that non-profit corporations have constitutional rights."
The group argues that FPPC does not have authority to audit the communications between donors and the not-for-profit until after the election and that the agency did not consult its commissioner before asking for the information.
The filing states that FPPC has never requested such information from at least eight other not-for-profits, including the American Cancer Society, which donated millions toward a tobacco tax initiative this year (California Healthline, 10/30).
Details of Tentative Ruling
In her tentative ruling, Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang wrote that FPPC has the authority to audit a not-for-profit prior to an election and that voters "will suffer irreparable harm" if they are unaware of the identity of donors.
She added that the Citizens United case was not relevant because the Supreme Court decision did not address donor information. Chang stated, "Nothing in Citizens United prohibits this state-mandated disclosure."
A court hearing is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
If the court maintains its ruling, the state wants ARL to disclose donor information by 4 p.m. Thursday so FPPC can conduct an audit, according to Attorney General Kamala Harris' (D) office.
If a violation is found, it is unclear how quickly voters would learn who contributed the funds, according to "Capitol Alert" ("Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 10/30).