News Column

Ariz. Campaign Group Ordered to Turn Over Records to Calif. Officials

Nov. 1, 2012

Jon Ortiz and Dan Smith, The Sacramento Bee

A Sacramento Superior Court judge confirmed Wednesday her ruling against an obscure Arizona campaign group, saying California officials' inability to investigate its funds would cause irreparable harm to voters.

Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang's final ruling ordered Phoenix-based Americans for Responsible Leadership, which donated $11 million to kill Gov. Jerry Brown's tax increase in Proposition 30 and to support the campaign finance measure Proposition 32, to turn over information to state regulators today.

It's still far from certain, however, that voters will learn of the group's donors before Tuesday's election.

The group said it will appeal, and it is unclear whether the courts can sort out the issues in expedited fashion or, even if they do, whether the state Fair Political Practices Commission will determine that donor disclosure is warranted.

"We are disappointed in today's court ruling," Matt Ross, the Sacramento-based spokesman for the group's Virginia legal team, said in a prepared statement. "We have asserted all along that the FPPC does not have the authority to issue an audit in advance of the election. We continue to believe so and will appeal this case."

If the commission gets the records, it will review them, looking for whether its donors have been illegally shielded from disclosure. State law requires that donors must be identified if they gave to nonprofits with the intention of spending money on state campaigns here.

In her ruling, Chang said "irreparable harm has occurred and continues to occur as each day passes and voters continue to cast their votes without information that may influence their votes."

Attorney Jason Torchinsky, representing the Arizona group, said that the Fair Political Practices Commission's request for unredacted records, including emails and bank statements, exceeds the scope of the law.

He also suggested that the commission's audit request was politically motivated.

If the court sides with the state, Torchinsky said during arguments Wednesday, the message conveyed will be "if your speech is unpopular, expect reprisals."

Brown has blasted the Arizona nonprofit for failing to disclose the source of its funds. Last week he compared the little-known Arizona nonprofit to people "who liked to run around in hoods." He later denied that the reference, made during a speech to the NAACP's California state conference, was to the Ku Klux Klan.

Ann Ravel, who chairs the FPPC, is a Brown appointee.

After Wednesday's hearing, Ravel denied that the commission's actions were politically motivated, citing the complaint by a good-government group that sparked its push for the audit.

"It was a complaint," Ravel said. "We investigate complaints."

Source: (c)2012 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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