A California bill to require the disclosure of so-called dark money — campaign expenditures funneled through nonprofit organizations to hide donors' identities — became the first casualty of the Democrats' losing their supermajority in the Legislature. Not a single Republican senator backed the bill, so it has stalled. And there are other important bills that will stay on the back burner unless the Democrats begin to negotiate and Republicans come off the margins to legislate again.
Californians may have been lulled into thinking that partisan gridlock in Sacramento was over after the Legislature passed a number of significant bills last year, including one to raise the minimum wage, another to provide driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants and a third that regulated fracking.
But getting stuff done in the statehouse is about to become more difficult again. Last month, the Democrats lost their supermajority in the Senate when they were hit with the double-whammy departures of Sen. Roderick Wright of Inglewood, who took a paid leave of absence following his conviction on perjury and voter fraud charges, and Sen. Ronald Calderon of Montebello, who also took a paid leave after he was indicted on federal bribery and corruption charges.
Apparently the ramifications haven't sunk in yet, because Democrats are still acting as if they can run roughshod over Republicans. They can't. Without their supermajority, Democrats lost an opportunity to pass SB 27, the dark-money bill. The legislation was proposed after two groups linked to conservative bankrollers Charles and David Koch funneled $15 million to California campaigns in 2012. The bill would have closed loopholes in current law by requiring that nonprofits that make at least $50,000 in political expenditures in a year must reveal their donors, and independent campaign committees that raise $1 million must publish a list of their top 10 contributors.
Senate Democrats could have won some Republican support if they'd tweaked the bill so the law would have taken effect on Jan. 1, 2015, instead of July 1, 2014. Sure, it would have been better to have the law in place before the November election, but the fact is that the Democrats lost their grip on the Legislature (thanks to scandals from within their own caucus) and now they need to play ball. Republicans, however, need to get off the bench and show voters that they take campaign finance transparency seriously.