Let’s begin with the bedrock principle that voters deserve full disclosure of who’s giving money to whom for what.
In fact, we’d be much better served to make full and immediate disclosure of campaign funds our sole regulation of political money, rather than the complex melange of federal and state laws, regulations and court decisions that now purport – but fail – to protect the political process.
So from that standpoint, the California Fair Political Practices Commission is correct in demanding, as it has done for the past couple of weeks, more information about the source of $11 million in money that flowed into a committee against Gov. Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30 and for Proposition 32.
The dustup over the money reached a climax of sorts Monday when the Arizona organization that sent the money into California seemingly backed down and said that it came from two other nonprofit organizations that may not have to reveal their contributors under any circumstances.
One day before Election Day, therefore, we learned what was already evident – that some conservatives who dislike Brown’s tax increase spent money to oppose it – and we may never know more than that because of the aforementioned welter of laws, regulations and court decisions.
Some in the media may speculate that the Koch brothers, who support conservative causes, are behind the money, but they deny it and there’s no hard evidence to prove it.
FPPC chairwoman Ann Ravel may call it “money laundering,” but that’s a pejorative that may or may not be legally correct.
The folks behind the money, whoever they may be, played the legal game well – stringing out the FPPC to delay its nondisclosure disclosure until just before the election, thereby precluding any further disclosure until after the voting, if ever.
Brown portrayed his measure as a victim of “dirty money,” hoping the controversy would boost Proposition 30, which was below 50 percent in the final round of pre-election polls. And some pundits argued that it would have that effect.
But without a smoking-gun revelation about the real source of the money, and with a huge number of votes already cast by mail, the impact is very uncertain.
Were Proposition 30 to lose, especially were it to lose narrowly, Brown & Co. would undoubtedly blame the late infusion of opposition money.
However, even with that money against them, Brown and his allies in public employees unions will have spent much more for the measure than opponents – and Proposition 30’s support was declining long before the mystery money showed up.
It would be nice to know who contributed the money. It would be even nicer if the controversy resulted in more rational political disclosure laws and less nitpicking regulation.
Dan Walters is a columnist for the Sacramento Bee. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.