Will Ethics Board Kill Disclosure of Politicians' Fundraising for Pet Charities?

Yesterday, the Fair Political Practices Commission sent out an interested persons notice that it's considering removing disclosure of behested contributions solicited by politicians from its website after a period of 7 years. 

It's a strange move, especially coming just a few weeks after the Commission took a big step toward unmasking dark money contributions in California by closing loopholes in rules that allowed candidates to coordinate messaging and fundraising with nonprofits that are allowed to raise unlimited funds because they're ostensibly independent from campaigns.

The FPPC shouldn't now take a step backwards to limit disclosure of money given to influence politicians.

Politicians who solicit contributions on behalf of nonprofit organizations are required to report those contributions to the FPPC, who posts them online. So far this year over $30 million in behested contributions have been reported, including $3.8 million solicited by Governor Jerry Brown for charter schools he founded. The money comes from every big interest in the state, often from those who have maxed out giving directly to politicians' campaigns and are seeking other ways to gain favor and access. What better way than to give a large chunk of money to a politician's favorite charity?

This year, the Commission opposed a bill to reduce transparency around behested payments by allowing funds solicited from government programs to go unreported, but the Governor signed the bill in October. What purpose could further limiting disclosure of these limitless contributions by deleting past records serve? Is something hiding in contribution reports from the mid-00's that someone wants to disappear?

Especially in an age of reformed term limits, many politicians in the legislature today may well serve for decades. A sole contribution solicited in 2008 may not reflect direct influence over a vote or action in 2015, but it can certainly help paint a trend and pattern over time of a politician's relationships and who they rely on for support.

Once upon a time, too much data might have felt like dead wood, too voluminous to be used in any meaningful way. Today, technology is giving us new and innovative ways to manipulate government and campaign data every day. We can do more this year with data provided in 2000 than we could for the previous 15 years. It's the worst time to be taking information out of public view.

The FPPC has taken a strong stance to improve public disclosure of access and influence this year. It shouldn't mar that record by burying behested gifts in the sands of time.

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