Fight over campaign donation audit goes to California top court

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 03, 2012 6:57 PM
Fight over campaign donation audit goes to California top court

(Reuters) - California's top court will decide whether a state campaign finance regulatory agency can audit a last-minute $11 million out-of-state donation to a political action committee by a group of mystery donors from Arizona, the agency said on Saturday.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission said California's Supreme Court was expected to rule by Monday on whether the commission can audit the donation by Arizona-based Americans for Responsible Leadership to two California ballot proposition campaigns.

Commission Chairwoman Ann Ravel said the state Supreme Court agreed to hear the case after a California appeals court in Sacramento refused on Friday to force the Arizona group to submit to an audit over the donation.

It is the latest twist in a legal battle for disclosure over the source of the donation, which sought to defeat a tax ballot initiative sponsored by California Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, and support another measure to ban payroll deductions for political activities, which is seen as a potential blow to labor unions.

The commission sued the Arizona-based non-profit last month for access to information about its donors before Tuesday's election to evaluate if its donations complied with California campaign finance laws.

The $11 million donation is one of the single largest contributions in the 2012 election season in California, and is also the largest out-of-state contribution from one independent non-profit to another for the purposes of influencing an election.

The Arizona group donated $11 million to the Small Business Action Committee PAC on October 15, according to the lawsuit.

Both sides in the dispute were asked to submit briefs over the weekend, Ravel said, adding she expected the state Supreme Court to rule either on Sunday or early on Monday.

"The Supreme Court (is) ... very cognizant of the urgency of this matter, because we have to first audit the books in order to determine under our law if they have to disclose," Ravel told Reuters.

(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)