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The Dark Money Forerunner to Secret California Millions

POLITICS - In late October and early November, a dramatic legal battle played out in California between the state’s campaign finance watchdog and a little-known Arizona non-profit named Americans for Responsible Leadership.
It began on Oct. 15, when Americans for Responsible Leadership gave a whopping $11 million to a California group involved in the fights over a pair of Golden State ballot initiatives. The stakes were high — one proposition was Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax-hike initiative, the other would have prohibited labor unions’ from raising political money from payroll deductions. 
California Democrats and progressives were incensed that the millions of dollars coming from another state had been given anonymously. As a 501(c)4, or so-called “social welfare” group, Americans for Responsible Leadership could and did keep its donors secret under federal law.
“Eleven million dollars doesn’t just drop out of the sky,” Derek Cressman, vice president for state operations of the advocacy group Common Cause, told a California news outlet in October.
A few days after the donation was made, Common Cause’s California chapter filed a complaint with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). 
Soon thereafter, the FPPC sued Americans for Responsible Leadership, in an attempt to force the group to turn over records and answer questions. The FPPC wanted to determine if Americans for Responsible Leadership’s large, anonymous donation violated not federal disclosure laws, but state ones. If a violation had in fact occurred, it became clear, Americans for Responsible Leadership’s secret donors could potentially end up unmasked.
The case bounced up the courts, and the FPPC ultimately prevailed. 
Early on Nov. 5, the day before Election Day, word spread that the agency was ready to do the unmasking. A few hours later, the agency put out a press release doing just that. But it proved a confounding revelation. The source of the money, the FPPC announced, was not Americans for Responsible Leadership but — wait for it — Americans for Job Security. 
Behind one anonymously financed and neutrally-named group was simply another anonymously financed and neutrally-named group. Like some kind of dark money Russian doll.
What had been billed as a victory for transparency turned out to be only a peek at how complex and inscrutable outside spending efforts have become.  (Read the rest … including uncovering who was at the top of the layered donation pile … here.
Photo info:  Gary Winuk, an attorney for the Fair Political Practices Commission, talks with FPPC chairwoman Ann Ravel after a hearing in Sacramento Superior Court regarding an $11 million political contribution from an Arizona nonprofit called Americans for Responsible Leadership, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012.
Vol 10 Issue 97
Pub: Dec 4, 2012

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