Council should enact strong disclosure rules for campaign spending | March 4, 2016 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

Opinion - March 4, 2016

Council should enact strong disclosure rules for campaign spending

by Lucas Ramirez and Emily Ramos

When voters question the integrity of an election, the ability of government to function effectively is compromised. Money in politics, particularly "dark money" spent by campaign committees with deliberately opaque names to conceal the identities and motives of the donors, has been shown to contribute to the perception of corruption. Transparency, accountability, and public accessibility of information are crucial to prevent the erosion of the public's confidence and trust in their elected representatives and in government generally.

On Feb. 11, the office of the city attorney, at the direction of the City Council, released a memo describing several options to regulate campaign expenditures and contributions. The most important of these is disclosure — prominently displaying the top true contributors to a campaign committee directly on all communications to voters.

The memo indicates that the Supreme Court, in the Citizens United case, recognizes that "disclosures provide voters with more complete information when evaluating campaign messages and promote a healthy democracy."

We recommend that the following regulations be implemented:

1. Require that at least the top three true donors to a campaign committee making independent expenditures be disclosed prominently, with a readable font and on a contrasting background, on all communications to voters.

2. Require that such communications also include a notice if a large percentage of contributions to the committee comes from donors outside of Mountain View.

3. Require the disclosure of the print cost of mass mailers directly on the mailers themselves.

4. Require electronic filing by candidates and committees of all campaign statements and reports. Easy public access to these documents is an important component of disclosure.

Many local governments have enacted strong disclosure provisions. Contra Costa County, for instance, requires that the identities and occupations/business interests of the top five contributors to campaign committees making independent expenditures be disclosed prominently on mass mailings to voters. If at least one-third of the total contributions come from large out-of-county donors, the mailer must display: "Major funding from large out-of-county contributors." The identities of those directing or controlling the expenditures are also listed.

We commend the City Council and city attorney for their work on addressing this issue, and we urge them to establish strong disclosure provisions and electronic filing requirements as soon as possible.

Emily Ann Ramos, who will soon make Mountain View her home, is a member of the California Civic Lab, a coalition of Code for America civic hacker brigades focused on making local campaign finance information accessible and clear to the public. Mountain View resident Lucas Ramirez is a member of the Los Altos-Mountain View League of Women Voters local government Observer Corps.

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