We must bring transparency to the financing of political campaigns. This is especially true for ballot initiatives, in which millions of dollars are spent in favor or against a proposal, without people knowing who contributes the money.
SB 52, a bill that will be voted on today in the Assembly, is the best alternative to make things clear. The measure basically requires political campaigns that spend money for or against a ballot initiative to prominently disclose their top donors in their ads, whether by mail, radio, TV or online.
California’s voters are overwhelmed in each election cycle by ballot initiatives that tackle complex subjects, which are often written in a confusing way and promoted by organizations whose names hide their origins.
An example was Proposition 87, which advocated for a tax on oil to fund green energy projects. The group Californians Against Higher Taxes spent $94 million to defeat the measure, which came from Chevron, Occidental Petroleum and Aera Energy.
Likewise, Americans for Responsible Leadership sent $11 million from Arizona to support Proposition 32, which financially weakened California’s unions.
Unfortunately, opposition to this transparency has now put unions and Republicans on the same side. For various reasons, they consider having to reveal their top donors to be too much of a burden.
The Assembly must take into account that the costliest option for Californians is a political system without transparency—especially for ballot initiatives—that discourages citizen participation. Approving this project supports a democracy that is based on empowering voters.