The California Supreme Court issued a rare Sunday ruling, ordering an Arizona non-profit group to submit to an audit that could result in revealing who donated $11 million to a campaign involved with two hot-button propositions on Tuesday's ballot.
The California justices voted 7-0 and ordered Americans for Responsible Leadership to immediately provide documents to the state's elections watchdog, the Fair Political Practices Commission.
However, attorneys for the Phoenix-based group are taking their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Matt Ross, spokesman for Americans for Responsible Leadership's legal team, issued this statement Sunday night: "We are disappointed by the California Supreme Court's ruling. We have been in contact with the FPPC in an attempt to comply with the order. While we are working to deliver the records we still believe that the FPPC does not have the authority to take such action and have filed a request for immediate stay with the United States Supreme Court."
The FPPC has been trying to learn who provided the funds to Americans for Responsible Leadership, saying California voters deserve to know before election day.
The chair of the FPPC, Ann Ravel, said: “I am absolutely amazed that the Supreme Court took this historic action and, of course, gratified that they clearly understood the importance of this case.”
Last month, Americans for Responsible Leadership contributed $11 million to a campaign to defeat Prop 30, Governor Jerry Brown’s tax initiative, and to pass Prop 32, a ban on union payroll deductions for political contributions. The Arizona group, which is a 501(c)4 tax exempt organization, has insisted that under federal law, it is not required to disclose who gave the money.
California’s Political Reform Act of 1974 requires a nonprofit to disclose the names of its donors, if those donors knew the money would be spent on a particular campaign.
Last week the FPPC convinced a state Superior Court to order the Arizona group to immediately turn over e-mails, phone texts and other documents regarding the donation. Americans for Responsible Leadership appealed the decision — putting the audit on hold.
The FPPC then asked the state Supreme Court to use its power to overide the stay, arguing that not proceeding would result in “in a manifest injustice."
The FPPC said its audit committee is prepared to work overnight Sunday to determine whether to order disclosure of the donor’s names. Ravel said if Americans for Responsible Leadership refuses to divulge the names, the commission will head back to court for help.
The Virginia-based firm representing Americans for Responsible Leadership, Holtzman Vogel Josefiak, has strong ties to the Republican Party. Lead attorney Jill Holtzman Vogel, who serves as a Virginia state senator, was named Chief Counsel to the National Republican Party in 2004. The firm’s website says it specializes in helping nonprofits and other groups “engaged in influencing the public policy arena.”
The San Jose Mercury-News has reported that Holtzman Vogel Josefiak shares the same Virginia address as American Crossroads, Karl Rove's super PAC, which has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Republican candidates and causes in this election.
Americans for Responsible Leadership is headed by three businessmen, including Robert Graham, who ran an unsuccessful campaign in Arizona's 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary and is a current candidate for chairman of the state's Republican Party.