Initiative backers must come forward, panel says

by Mark Walker, San Diego Union Tribune

The people who pay for petition drives in support of statewide ballot measures can no longer hide their identity, thanks to a regulation adopted by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission on Thursday.

Meeting in San Diego, the watchdog panel decided to require groups spending more than $100,000 for a signature drive to state on their organization papers what they’re backing.

The change comes after people trying to track ballot measures complained there was insufficient information to determine what groups were behind the efforts.

‘Getting information out about who is circulating petitions is imperative,’ said Commissioner Elizabeth Garrett before the requirement won unanimous approval.

In an Internet-related item, the commission will now require candidates and committees sending out mass emails to identify themselves in the missives. Current regulation only requires identification when 200 or more pieces are sent through Postal Service mail.

A glaring example of the hole in that provision came in 2010 when mass emails attacking a state attorney general candidate were signed by ‘Nancy Drew’ and ‘the Hardy Boys.’

Such regulations are increasingly required as campaigns increase their efforts using the Internet and social media, according to commission Chairwoman Ann Ravel.

‘Our rules have to move with the times and be more responsive to the ways people are getting their political information,’ she said after the meeting. ‘We’re looking at ways we can require the same type of disclosure on Internet mechanisms as we do for radio and television.’

The commission also gave the OK to increases in campaign contribution limits based on inflation. The maximum individuals can now give per election were raised from $26,000 to $27,200 for a gubernatorial candidate, from $6,500 to $6,800 for other statewide office candidates, and from $3,900 to $4,100 for state Assembly and Senate candidates.

During the next few months, the commission named its chief of administration, Tina Bass, to serve as interim executive director. The panel hopes to name a replacement for Roman Porter, who held the job for several years before leaving a few months ago, by the spring.

Commissioner Lynn Montgomery said the agency wants someone with substantial policy and administrative experience who can bring innovations to more fully inform the electorate of political activity in California.

Ravel also cited a list of accomplishments this year for the Sacramento-based agency, including updates to gift and conflict of interest rules and an increase in enforcement that included a tripling in the number of money laundering cases.

In one of those enforcement matters, the commission approved a $1,500 fine for former Del Mar mayor Carl Hilliard for failing to meet a campaign finance reporting deadline during his unsuccessful run for county supervisor this year.