OUR VIEW

Our View: California Legislature actually getting something done

May 15, 2014 

This is refreshing. In two days, there have been two developments out of Sacramento that make us want to applaud.

Wednesday, the governor 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 to defeat Proposition 30 and promote Proposition 32 in 2012. That resulted in a $1 million fine.

With SB 27, California has unmasked those secretitive donors. A who’s who of good-government groups 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,” said Brown spokesman Evan Westrup. “This bill helps close this dark money loophole by ensuring Californians know who is giving and where the money trail starts.”

Thurday, the Legislature unanimously passed a rainy day fund measure – sponsored by Ceres’ Anthony Cannella – to set aside 1.5 percent 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 percent 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.

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