Saturday, October 8, 2016

Shedding some light on dark money

In 2016, dark money continues to be the coin of the realm in initiative politics. Only this time, some of the nonprofit money is helping to fund an initiative promoted by good liberals led by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom to legalize recreational use of marijuana.

The Drug Policy Action, a nonprofit with an Oakland address, has given $4.7 million to pass Proposition 64. Nearly $4 million of that came from an entity called Fund for Policy Reform based in Washington, D.C. Billionaire George Soros, it turns out, is the source of that money, though you wouldn’t know it from campaign finance reports.

Andrew Acosta, a Democratic consultant who is helping to run an underfunded campaign to defeat Proposition 64, was first to pull at the thread by signing a complaint to the FPPC last week urging that it investigate the nonprofits and discover the donors “now, before the election.”

Jason Kinney, the spokesman for the Yes-on-64 campaign and one of Newsom’s consultants, called the complaint “silly, sloppy, totally groundless,” intended to distract from a complaint his campaign filed over a far smaller sum being spent against the legalization initiative.

To which Acosta replied, deadpan: “They’re not answering the question. Who are the donors?”

...Drug Policy Action also is funding the Yes-on-64 campaign. It, in turn, gets money from the Fund for Policy Reform, an arm of Open Society, founded by Soros, long an advocate of liberal causes including drug legalization.

As billionaires go, Soros is reasonably open about his political giving. And late Friday, Ellen Flenniken of Drug Policy Action told me Soros was the source of the $4 million that ended up in the Yes-on-64 campaign fund, though nothing in public campaign finance filings identifies him as the donor.

“Weird. Why go through all this trouble to do this?” asked Sacramento attorney Thomas Hiltachk, who specializes in campaign finance law and helped Acosta write the complaint.

If, as Flenniken says, Soros is the source of the $4 million, certain California laws would be triggered. He would have to be identified in ads as one of the measure’s major funders. He’s not....