Mystery $11 Million Campaign Donation May Lead to Formal Investigation

By Julie Small, Polly Stryker and Lisa Aliferis

(Jupiter Images)

(Jupiter Images)

Later today the agency that enforces California’s election laws is expected to decide whether to investigate a mysterious $11 million campaign donation from out of state. It’s unclear why the Arizona group — Americans for Responsible Leadership — contributed the whopping sum to weigh in on propositions in California. The money went to the Small Business Action Committee which is campaigning on two fronts: fighting to defeat the Gov. Brown backed Proposition 30 tax initiative that would fund education; and to pass Proposition 32 which would ban payroll deductions for political donations.

The potential investigation concerns whether the original, anonymous donors were making a donation to a general pool — or specifically to fund Prop. 30 or 32 campaigns.

Federal law permits anonymity for some types of donors in national races … But California law is different.

The Committee’s spokeswoman Beth Miller insists there’s “nothing untoward” about the donation. “We don’t know who contributed to Americans for Responsible Leadership,” Miller said. “What we do know is that they are a bonafide organization.”

But Gov. Brown doesn’t buy that. “It’s completely clear that the ‘No on 30′ committee has some knowledge of who these people are,” he said. “They didn’t just pick an envelope out of their mailbox with 11 million it.”

The watchdog group California Common Cause has asked the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) to investigate the Arizona donation. The issue here is the distinction between federal and state races. Federal law permits anonymity for some types of donors in national races — presidential or Congression, for example.

But California law is different, according to Ann Ravel, chair of California’s FPPC. “The law in California is much more stringent than the federal law, in that we require a higher amount of disclosure,” Ravel says. “In most cases independent committees must disclose the donors who are giving money for California campaigns.”

Bob Stern, the former president of the Center for Governmental Studies says this is the biggest undisclosed political contribution he’s ever seen. “My assumption is (that) it’s people in California giving to a group in Arizona, so they think they can avoid disclosure.”

Stern thinks Californians will find out who the donors are — he’s just not sure whether it will be before or after the election.

The California FPPC has given the Arizona group, Americans for Responsible Leadership, until end of the day Wednesday to provide information. Based on that, the FPPC will then decide whether to move forward with an investigation.