FPPC Levies Record Fines Against Dark Money Groups

California’s Fair Political Practices Commission today sent a strong message to shadowy out-of-state special-interest groups and donors trying to influence our state’s elections by levying record fines for contributions to committees that supported Prop 32 and opposed Prop 30.

According to the Sacramento Bee:

In a campaign finance case watched around the country, California's political watchdog has levied a $1 million fine against two non-profit groups for inappropriately laundering money during last year's ballot initiative wars.

The Fair Political Practices Commission announced the settlement with the Center to Protect Patient Rights and Americans for Responsible Leadership, two groups based in Arizona that the FPPC describes as part of a network operated by the conservative Koch brothers.

The commission also sent letters to two California committees demanding they pay the state general fund more than $15 million they received from groups that didn't properly report the source of their funds.

These groups used every dirty trick in the book to try to hoodwink voters into passing the pernicious Prop 32, a measure which would have silenced workers, and defeat Prop 30, the tax measure to fund our schools. Ultimately, they failed because voters saw through the façade.

Reaction was swift from union leaders to this landmark settlement.

California Labor Federation Leader Art Pulaski:

With today's record fine, California sent a strong message to shadowy special-interest groups that we won't tolerate illicit campaign donations that undermine our democracy. We applaud Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) Chair Ann Ravel for aggressively pursuing this investigation and holding these out-of-state dark-money groups accountable for violating California law.

California Professional Firefighters President and Alliance for a Better California Chair Lou Paulson expressed outrage that the California-based Small Business Action Committee (SBAC) was the lynchpin for the illegal effort. SBAC was ordered by the FPPC to repay the $11 million it received from the out-of-state front groups.

The FPPC action offers final proof of an open secret: Corporate California is using dark money to try to game California’s election process. It’s clear there was a calculated effort by California political operatives to hide the involvement of California interests in the Prop. 30 and 32 campaigns. We’re appalled that the SBAC would be the conduit for this money-laundering scheme.

SEIU California President Laphonza Butler also applauded today’s action, yet noted more needs to be done to shed light on these dark money groups that try to rig elections in California.

With the identity of the secret donors still unknown, it’s clear that our campaign finance laws contain loopholes that allow shadowy front groups to deceive voters by hiding the source of campaign dollars. We call on legislators to strengthen campaign finance laws to prevent billionaires and corporate titans like the Koch brothers from using shadowy front groups to buy California elections.