EDITORIAL: Refreshing developments: The Legislature has productive week

FresnoMay 17, 2014 

California Governor Cancer

Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that will pull back the veil on secret donations made to influence California elections.

ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE

This is refreshing. Last week, there were two developments out of Sacramento that make us want to applaud.

Wednesday, Gov. Brown signed into law a bill that will pull back the veil on secret donations made to influence California elections. Some big donors on either side of the political spectrum would prefer people not know they are backing a particular cause or candidate, most often because that bill or candidate is serving the donor's interest.

Wanting to remain secret, the big donors give often huge donations to political action committees, called super PACs. The nice thing about a super PAC is that it can take as much money as it wants from corporations, individuals or unions. The bad thing is that it is prohibited from giving that money directly to candidates or campaigns.

To get that money into the desired races, a middle man is needed. These middle men also serve the function of keeping the donors' names secret. That's why such contributions have a name: dark money.

It's all very hush-hush, but typical of the way things are done on the national level.

One of the most notorious examples — and the one that sparked Senate Bill 27 — was the millions contributed by the Koch brothers in failed attempts to defeat Proposition 30 and pass Proposition 32 in 2012. That resulted in a $1 million fine.

With SB 27, California has unmasked those secretive donors. A who's who of good-government groups and people backed this bill: Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, California Forward, even Bill Moyer.

"Our democracy is tarnished when millions of dollars is funneled through a web of shadowy, out-of-state organizations to hide the identities of campaign contributors," Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said. "This bill helps close this dark money loophole by ensuring Californians know who is giving and where the money trail starts."

Thursday, the Legislature unanimously passed a rainy day fund measure — sponsored by Sen. Anthony Cannella of Ceres — to set aside 1.5% of the general fund each year to protect taxpayers against catastrophic budget deficits.

If voters approve this proposal in November (and we hope they do), and if it works as it's supposed to, up to 10% of the state's annual budget eventually could be held in reserve. That will come in handy when the next bubble bursts.

Let's repeat that: the Democratic-controlled Senate unanimously passed a bill sponsored by a Republican.

Yes, that's our applause you're hearing.

Would it be expecting too much from the Legislature to get get bipartisan agreement on important issues such as water, education, pension debt and sensible reform of the California Environmental Quality Act?

Probably.

But the Legislature's decision to shine a bright light on dark money and the prudent embracing of a rainy day fund suggests that the people up in Sacramento, on occasion, are capable of serving the people's best interests.

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