AARP successfully supported a case seeking an order from the California Supreme Court requiring a nonprofit organization seeking to influence state ballot initiatives to disclose its donors.
Shortly before the November election, an out-of-state nonprofit group, Americans for Responsible Leadership (ARL), spent $11 million on two state initiatives that were on the California ballot. The California Fair Political Practices Commission sued ARL seeking an immediate disclosure of its donors in compliance with a state regulation.
The case flew through the courts and the California Supreme Court decided the case two days after the commission sought review. AARP Foundation Litigation filed AARP’s letter brief supporting the commission and urging the court to order the disclosure of campaign donors. The court unanimously agreed with the lower court and ordered ARL to disclose its donors. California law mandates that financial contributors be identified if they give money to nonprofits with the intention of spending money on state campaigns.
Subsequent to the court’s order, ARL disclosed that the true source of the contribution was Americans for Job Security, through a second intermediary, The Center to Protect Patient Rights. Under California law, the failure to disclose this initially is considered campaign money laundering. According to Ann Ravel, Chair of the FPPC, “At $11 million, this is the largest contribution ever disclosed as campaign money laundering in California history.” She noted that this case “demonstrates the need for reform to make sure true donors are disclosed and can't hide behind innocuous committee names."
What’s at Stake
Last minute multimillion dollar contributions, called “money bombs,” are becoming increasingly frequent in elections. Timely and full disclosure of contributions is essential to enable the electorate to make informed decisions and fight corruption.
The California Supreme Court ordered that the donors be disclosed when it considered Fair Political Practices Commission v. Americans for Responsible Leadership.