California is fighting dark money with fines.
The state’s attorney general and its campaign finance watchdog on Thursday announced what they billed as a “record settlement” against two Arizona dark money groups, the Center to Protect Patient Rights (CPPR) and Americans for Responsible Leadership (ARL), that were behind a $11 million donation to 2012 ballot initiative efforts in the Golden State.
According to The Washington Post, the $1 million fine ranks as the third-highest campaign finance fine ever levied.
In a press release, California’s Fair Political Practices Commission said that the settlement requires the groups to pay $1 million to the State General Fund, citing the groups’ “failure to disclose two dark money independent expenditure contributions” in 2012.
The story began in October, when ARL — a political group tied to a handful of mostly small-time Arizona Republicans — dropped $11 million into the fight over a pair of ballot initiatives: Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax-hike initiative, and Proposition 32, which would have prohibited labor unions’ from raising political money from payroll deductions. The money went to a group called the Small Business Action Committee.
The Fair Political Practices Commission and California’s attorney general sued ARL to ensure that the source of the donation was properly disclosed. The day before the election, the commission revealed that the money had actually come from the conservative organization Americans for Job Security, and had been funneled through CPPR. CPPR was helmed by Sean Noble, a former congressional aide who has been tied to the movement of millions of dollars between political non-profits.
In its press release Thursday, the Fair Political Practices Commission called both CPPR and ARL part of the “Koch Brothers’ Network” of dark money organizations. The commission also announced that in the course of its investigation, it discovered that CPPR was also involved in a second multi-million dollar political contribution in the state last year. CPPR was the source of a $4 million contribution to a group called the California Future Fund, made through the American Future Fund (AFF), on September 11, 2012.
Both the California Future Fund and the Small Business Action Committee were sent letters on Thursday notifying them that California law requires the disgorgement of the money they got from CPPR.
“This case highlights the nationwide scourge of dark money nonprofit networks hiding the identities of their contributors,” Fair Political Practices Commission Chair Ann Ravel said in a statement. “The FPPC is aggressively litigating to get disclosure and working on laws and regulations to put a stop to these practices in California.”