California's Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) [official website] on Thursday issued a rule [press release] that will require sponsors of "thinly veiled" political ads reveal their funding sources. The FPPC said disclosure is no longer precluded in the absence of certain key words such as "vote for," "oppose," and "elect," but instead will be based on a reasonable interpretation of whether the advertisement is an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate or measure. Chairman Dan Schnur [official profile] said:
This is a great day for Californians. The Commission has adopted what is likely the first statewide rule of its type in the nation. By forcing the disclosure of those who truly attempt to influence the outcome of an election, we have put an end to the most egregious of campaign tactics. Now, when groups try to stay in the shadows by sending out carefully crafted campaign messages in the days and months before an election that are nothing more than thinly veiled attempts to sway the electorate, the public will know who is behind them.This measure applies for political ads run within 60 days of any given election. However, the provision will not go into effect [San Francisco Chronicle report] for 30 days and therefore does not affect the current round of elections.
Campaign finance has become a contentious issue recently, particularly in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizen's United v. Federal Election Commission [Cornell LII backgrounder], which eased restrictions [JURIST report] on political and campaign spending by corporations and unions based on First Amendment grounds. In the wake of Citizen's United, the Disclose Act [Open Congress materials], which prohibits corporations receiving federal contracts worth more than $7 million from spending money on "electioneering communications" and prohibits foreign-controlled domestic corporations from financing campaigns, was approved by the House of Representatives [JURIST report], but stalled in the Senate [LA Times report] in September. This past March, a three-judge panel of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] that the Republican National Committee (RNC) [committee website] cannot raise "soft money" to use in state elections. "Soft money" refers to contributions beyond the ceilings imposed by campaign finance [JURIST news archive] laws.