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Lawsuit Must Not Be Allowed to Weaken Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws

by Indy, published

Last week a federal judge ruled in support of California campaign finance disclosure laws that requires making public the names of political donors contributing more than $100 to a campaign or candidate.

U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. ruled against the Yes on 8/ lawsuit which sought to have the names of donors to the winning Nov. 4 ballot proposition which banned gay marriage in California kept secret.

England's ruling on Thursday was the right call on a number of levels.

First and foremost, the ruling preserved a three-decade-plus legal tradition in California that requires the names of political contributors be made public. England no doubt reasoned that keeping such records in the sunshine of unfettered public review trumps donor privacy interests.

Moreover, the attempt by the Yes on 8 people to make secret the names of their supporters flies against the very structure of our democratic (note the small 'd') state government. The public must have the ability to learn the identities of the 'influencers' of elections -- pro and con -- especially in a state that has become so dependent on the ballot initiative process.

At the core of the Yes on 8 argument was that by having the Secretary of State's office post the names of the contributors (in this case the names of those who wrote checks in the reporting period following the Nov. 4 balloting), they would be subject to threats of violence, vandalism, scorn and ridicule by the marriage equality communities. Lawsuit proponents argued (but apparently never actually presented any hard evidence) that the release of contributor names would stimulate death threats against the donors.

To be sure, threats of physical harm cannot be tolerated in our electoral process. Such actions can go far beyond mere intimidation. Such actions erode and deteriorate the very nature of our of freedoms and our democracy.

But make no mistake, Judge England was spot-on in his decision and how he weighed the competing factors present.

We cannot go back to the days when political contributors (especially the big fish) are allowed to swim in the inviting warm waters of anonymity. We've come too far to embrace the "bad old good days" of smoke-filled back rooms again.
After all, if you think state and federal politics and government are murky now, just imagine trying to make sense of it without the presence of campaign finance disclosure laws, the California Public Records Act, the Brown Act and, of course, the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Late word is that the Yes on 8/ folks are likely to appeal the case. No real surprise there.

No doubt, the issue of gay marriage in our state remains a highly personal and controversial issue for many Californians. But as that battle goes on, a second front by the Yes on 8 lawsuit has unfortunately been ripped open. This new battle focuses on whether or not we can keep our political campaigns clean, open and our voters informed. It's one that we cannot afford to lose.

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