California’s Campaign-Advertisement Disclosure Laws Become Toughest in the Country

Last week, Governor Jerry Brown signed the California DISCLOSE ACT, AB 249, which by some standards makes California’s campaign-advertisement disclosure laws the toughest in the country.

This new law requires the three largest contributors (of $50,000 or more) to be listed on ballot measure ads and independent expenditures.

On video and TV, the disclosures must be displayed against a solid black background in a clear font that is not all-caps, fill the bottom third of the screen and stay up for a full five seconds during a 30 second ad. Each of the three major funders’ names must appear on a separate line. Disclosures on radio ads would need to be made with the same speed as the rest of the ad. Committees must keep track of donations on a daily basis to make this calculation. If the top contributors change, committees have five business days to make a new ad and update it. Top funders would have to be identified in TV, radio, online and print ads about ballot measures on the ad itself.

This law applies to print, online, TV, and radio ads as well as mass mailers and robocalls. It requires radio ads and robocalls to name the two largest funders.

It also requires that if the funds were earmarked, the “true” source of the funds be disclosed. However, California Fair Political Practices Commission chair Jodi Remke raised a red flag about the fine print tucked inside the bill – particularly how, for example, labor union earmarks are disclosed. Granted, the FPPC chair thought the bill might need to require additional disclosure requirements. But the new earmarking rules benefit labor unions – likely to the detriment of Republicans:

Critics of the bill, including Republican Assemblyman Matthew Harper, R-Costa Mesa, who voted against it, complain that it stacks the deck for Democrats by making an exception for membership dues, helping the labor unions that fund Democrats’ campaigns. 

If a member’s dues are used to pay for a campaign, the organization — not the individual dues-payer — would appear as the contributor as long as the total amount is below $500. Mullin and others argue the change eases the paperwork burden for membership organizations while making it easier for the public to follow the money. But Republicans have cast the provision as union-friendly politics as usual. 

“What this does is it creates a massive, dark-money loophole that unions can drive through,” Harper said. “It’s what Democrats do over and over again.”

Although Republicans may be currently outnumbered in the California legislature, that has not stopped the RNLA from working to set-up a robust lawyer organization in the state. On October 21, RNLA’s California Chapter is hosting National Republican Congressional Committee General Counsel Chris Winkelman at a MCLE event during the California Republican Party Convention in Anaheim. Mr. Winkelman will be discussing the lawyer's role protecting the integrity of elections. He will also highlight important Congressional races in 2018 and discuss how lawyers can help next November. We will also be introducing our statewide leadership and new California Regional Chairs. Register for the event here.

California’s RNLA Chapter is growing and recruiting lawyers around the state to help in 2018 races. If you haven’t already joined RNLA, now is the time!

By Audrey Perry Martin, RNLA California State Chapter Chair and Of Counsel to Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, LLP.