Campaign to ID wealthy who donate dark money
SACRAMENTO — With just over four months until the general election, labor and community groups will open a campaign Tuesday to expose wealthy political donors who attempt to hide their contributions.
The campaign, called Hedge Clippers, is kicking off its California efforts with a report identifying dozens of donors who attempted to shield their political contributions against Proposition 30, the 2012 ballot measure pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown that raised taxes on the wealthy in order to better fund schools.
“The public needs to know a whole lot more about what these politically active millionaires and billionaires are up to,” said Amy Schur, California campaign director for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, one of the groups involved in the Hedge Clippers campaign.
Many of the names caught up in
the dark money scandal were exposed in 2013 following an investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission.
Those contributors included $6.4 million from investor Charles Schwab; $9 million from the Fisher family, who own Gap Inc.; as well as $1 million from Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad, who had publicly stated he supported Prop. 30 while secretly giving to opposition efforts.
The Hedge Clippers campaign released new names and contributions Tuesday, including $100,000 from both Los Angeles developer Geoff Palmer and Hyatt Hotel heir Anthony Pritzker and $500,000 from John H. Scully of the Mill Valley hedge fund SPO Partners.
Palmer, Pritzker and Scully could not be reached for comment.
Scully is the founder of Making Waves Academy, which operates two Richmond charter schools. Schur said the public charter schools financially benefited from Prop. 30.
Schur said she hopes outing those who secretly contributed against Prop. 30 in 2012 will pressure the wealthy donors to support efforts this year to extend the temporary taxes. Supporters of Prop. 30 are waiting to hear this week whether a ballot measure to extend personal income taxes on the state’s wealthiest residents will have enough valid signatures to make the November ballot.
“We are saying billionaires beware, we are watching what you are doing, and you won’t do this in secret,” Schur said. “We will out you, and let the public know what policies you are supporting.”
The 2012 dark money scandal to thwart Prop. 30 prompted a record $1 million fine against two Arizona nonprofits that attempted to secretly sway the election.
The nonprofits were accused of illegally funneling $15 million against Prop. 30, which raised taxes on the wealthy, and for Prop. 32, which would have restricted union political activity.
Money from political contributors — whose identities were kept secret — passed through conservative out-ofstate organizations before ending up in California.
According to the Fair Political Practices Commission investigation in 2013, the funds were raised for ads related to the two ballot measures, but some of the California donors wanted to remain anonymous, so the money was sent to an out-ofstate nonprofit linked to billionaire conservative activists Charles and David Koch to avoid disclosure laws.
“I think it’s outrageous that these corporate interests have been able to use their money and power to get richer on the backs of underserved students,” said Sonya Mehta, a teacher at Learning Without Limits charter school in Oakland, who plans to attend a Hedge Clippers campaign rally in front of the Gap’s San Francisco headquarters Tuesday. “What they did in 2012 really undermines the democratic process.”
Prop. 30 went on to win with 55 percent of the vote and Prop. 32 lost with 43 percent voting in favor.
The Hedge Clippers campaign used partially redacted donor lists that had been released as part of the commission’s investigation to identify donors.