November 5, 2012

Supreme Court issues weekend order requiring disclosure of identities of secret political contributors

As reported here by the Los Angeles Times, the California Supreme Court issued a rare weekend order yesterday requiring Americans for Responsible Leadership, an Arizona nonprofit, to disclose the identities of individuals behind an $11 million political contribution opposing Governor Brown’s tax increases (Proposition 30), and favoring limits on political spending by labor unions (Proposition 32). The order was in response to efforts by California’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) to enforce a state regulation requiring identification of contributors to nonprofits who intend to spend money on state campaigns.

According to the Times, the group initially delivered no records to the FPPC by the Court’s deadline yesterday. As shown on the on-line docket, lawyers for the group instead sought a stay from the California Supreme Court while they asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. The California Supreme Court denied the stay request and, according to the docket, the group filed, then withdrew, a request for immediate stay in the U.S. Supreme Court.

As Professor Rick Hasen reports in his excellent Election Law Blog, the group ultimately complied with the Court’s order and disclosed the names of its contributors. So who are they? It turns out they are still other political nonprofits.

This case did make us wonder what might have happened if the group had chosen not to comply with the Court’s order. We assume the Court, in aid of its jurisdiction, would have issued an Order to Show Cause re Contempt. Contempt proceedings in courts of last resort are extremely rare, but not unheard-of.

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