Multi-State Network Formed to Track Campaign Finance

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Campaign contribution enforcement agencies in California and nine other states have formed a nonpartisan network to track potential election finance abuses and adopt legislation to stop them, according to the California Fair Political Practices Commission or FPPC.

FPPC Chair Ann Ravel, who leaves later this month to join the Federal Elections Commission, was a driving force behind creation of the system named States’ Unified Network Center or SUN.

Other states participating in the SUN network are New York, Alaska, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Washington and Iowa.

“For the first time, states and cities are banding together to share innovative ideas, strategies and legislation related to campaign finance,” Ravel declared in a news release.

Campaign and government ethics regulators created SUN and its website to share information about campaign disclosure issues, collaborate on enforcement and legislation and inform the public about developing trends, according to an announcement earlier this month.

The website will offer the public and regulators details of campaign legislation pending in state legislatures and a database of organizations that make political contributions in multiple states. The site will also allow enforcement agencies to exchange information and “coordinate enforcement efforts,” according to the announcement of SUN’s creation.

“The SUN Center will be a one stop shop for the public to stay informed and encourage campaign disclosure in elections,” Ravel’s announcement stated.

Although not listed among the reasons for creating the network, Ravel and the FPPC won a significant legal battle in November 2012 when the California Supreme Court ordered a little-known Arizona nonprofit, Americans for Responsible Leadership, to release the names of its donors.

The nonprofit had contributed $11 million to two California campaigns and fought hard to keep its donors secret. Even when the names were made public, it turned out the money came from other nonprofits whose donors also were secret.

Local examples of similar abuses include a secretive East Coast nonprofit funded by anonymous donors that last year funneled $200,000 to a Republican-controlled, statewide political action committee. The committee used most of the money to defeat longtime Irvine City Councilman Larry Agran and other Democratic candidates in the race for mayor and two council seats.

The mission of the Virginia-based nonprofit, called Citizens in Charge, was to protect the initiative process, a grass-roots method of placing legislation on the ballot by gathering voter signatures, according to organization’s acting executive director, Paul Jacob.

But the $200,000 grant went to a statewide political action committee called California Term Limits organized by Republican Jon Fleischman and was used primarily to finance mailers that attacked Agran and other Democrats and to support his opponents, most notably Steven Choi, who defeated Agran for mayor in November.

The Orange County Register reported in August that Chris Anderson, an aide to Supervisor Janet Nguyen, a Republican, used political action committees to receive labor union donations in violation of a GOP ban on accepting union money.

More than $80,000 from the Orange County Employees Association went to two groups, California Citizens for Fair Government and California Citizens Fighting Government Waste, according to the Register’s report.

Nguyen told the Register she was unaware of the source of funds she received from the two groups.

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracyVOC.

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