Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Judge approves audit of group that donated $11 million to proposition campaigns

A Sacramento Superior Court judge on Wednesday ordered an Arizona organization, Americans for Responsible Leadership, to provide more details regarding an $11 million donation it made to a California group involved with two critical propositions on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The law firm representing Americans for Responsible Leadership said it will appeal the decision. Such an appeal would temporarily halt Wednesday’s ruling.

California’s elections watchdog, the Fair Political Practices Commission, went to court seeking the identities of the individuals who provided the donation. The FPCC’s Ann Ravel says an appeal would make it impossible to get the names of donors disclosed before the election.

The donation, made to California’s Small Business Action Committee, is being used in campaigns to defeat Prop 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative, and to pass Prop 32, the ban on payroll deductions for political contributions.

California’s Political Reform Act of 1974 requires a nonprofit to disclose the names of its donors, if those donors knew the money would be spent on a particular campaign.   

Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang approved the FPPC's request to audit the Arizona group's paper trail on the donation.

In her order, Judge Chang wrote that, if the FPPC determines Americans for Responsible Leadership violated the state’s disclosure laws, “irreparable harm has occurred and continues to occur as each day passes and voters continue to cast their votes.”

The FPPC’s Ravel said: “Unless this is provided in time for the California elections so that the electorate can get the information about who’s behind the contribution,  it’s not useful." 

Matt Ross, spokesman for the legal firm representing Americans for Responsible Leadership, says they believe the FPPC has no right to more information about the donation.

"They just don’t have the legal authority to take an action of an audit in advance of the election," Ross said. "This seems rather unprecedented."

The Virginia-based firm representing Americans for Responsible Leadership, Holtzman Vogel Josefiak, has strong ties to the Republican Party. Lead attorney Jill Holtzman Vogel, who serves as a Virginia state senator, was named Chief Counsel to the National Republican Party in 2004.  The firm’s website says it specializes in helping nonprofits and other groups “engaged in influencing the public policy arena.”  

Americans for Responsible Leadership is headed by three businessmen, including Robert Graham, who ran an unsuccessful campaign in Arizona's 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary and is a current candidate for chairman of the state's Republican Party.