Almanac

Viewpoint - January 9, 2013

Editorial: Unmasking those behind anonymous political ads

Midpeninsula residents have not seen a flood of anonymous campaign ads other than those aimed at statewide issues, but nevertheless, we believe it is a positive step to require backers of such advertising to be identified for all to see.

That is the purpose of a bill already introduced in the Legislature by incoming state Sen. Jerry Hill, a former Assembly Democrat whose Senate district includes most of San Mateo County, and his colleague, state Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco, also a Democrat. Aptly titled the DISCLOSE Act, the bill would require all political advertising, whether on television, radio, in print or on the Web, to disclose the top funders of the ads.

Such a bill would shine light on campaigns like the one in the last election by anonymous out-of-state donors attacking Gov. Jerry Brown's sales tax proposal, Proposition 30. By simply requiring disclosure, the proposed bill would not run afoul of the Supreme Court's infamous Citizens United decision, which declared that corporations have the same First Amendment rights as ordinary citizens and cannot be restricted from spending unlimited amounts of money to influence elections.

Sen. Hill said in a statement that "this legislation is vital to protecting the integrity of our democratic process and ensuring fair elections in our state." He added, "After seeing billions of dollars flow into elections across our country after the Citizens United decision, we need the DISCLOSE Act. Now more than ever."

Trent Lange, president of the California Clean Money Campaign, which backs the bill, said the legislation would replace the currently required fine-print disclosures with full-screen listings of the top three funders and links to committee websites for more information. And the bill would require that those listed as funders are actual individual, corporate or union contributors, not "sham nonprofits" or misleading committee names.

Sen. Leno said the bill is needed due to the large sums of money spent by unnamed organizations in the most recent election.

"The only way to stop this covert financing of campaigns is to require the simple and clear disclosure of the top three funders of political ads so voters can make well-informed decisions at the ballot box," he said.

This legislation would protect local voters and others around the state from the flood of money from undisclosed sources that has become so much a part of our state and national elections. It is time to put a stop to it and this legislation will help do the job.

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