SACRAMENTO (CBS / AP) – Attorneys for an Arizona nonprofit that gave $11 million to a California political action committee said Thursday that they have appealed a court order compelling the group to turn over its financial records to the state’s political watchdog agency.
Americans for Responsible Leadership filed the appeal Thursday afternoon in Sacramento County Superior Court, spokesman Matt Ross said. A copy of the appeal was not immediately available from the court.
KCBS’ Holly Quan Reports:
Judge Shelleyanne Chang ruled a day earlier that the Phoenix-based group should turn over internal documents to California’s Fair Political Practices Commission by 5 p.m. Thursday so the FPPC can investigate who funded the group’s contribution to the Small Business Action Committee PAC.
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The PAC opposes Gov. Jerry Brown’s November tax initiative and a separate ballot initiative that would limit unions’ ability to collect money for political causes.
Chang said the California agency has the authority to audit the group’s records before Tuesday’s election to determine whether any California election laws apply.
The commission has argued that as a major donor giving more than $10,000, the Arizona nonprofit is required to file a pre-election statement at least 12 days before an election and notify any recipients if the money was earmarked for a specific political committee. If any of the money was earmarked, the Small Business Action Committee PAC would be required to disclose the donors, commission attorneys said.
Chang wrote in her ruling that “irreparable injury to the people of the state of California will flow from a refusal to grant the preliminary injunction requested.”
Earlier Thursday, Attorney General Kamala Harris, whose office is also a party to the case, said she expected the Arizona group to do everything it can to stall in turning over the documents to California officials. She said her office would immediately seek to keep the judge’s Wednesday order in place when the appeal is formally recorded.
Still, with only four full days before Election Day, it seemed unlikely that voters will know the source of the money before they go to the polls.
“That’s our goal. We’ll see what happens today,” Harris told The Associated Press earlier Thursday.
She said her office and the Fair Political Practices Commission were challenging the group under the belief that “there has to be some understanding that transparency is critical to a fair election process. California voters have a right to know who is paying for this electioneering that will directly impact Californians.”
Americans for Responsible Leadership has argued that the commission’s action was politically motivated and that it was being singled out because it supports conservative positions. It said the commission does not have authority under California law to audit before an election.
Three Phoenix-area men are listed on documents as directors of Americans for Responsible Leadership, which was formed last year:
Steven Nickolas, president of Silver Sky Capital; Robert Graham, president of RG Capital Investors; and Eric Wnuck, an unsuccessful Arizona congressional candidate in 2010.
The group also has given more than $1 million to oppose two initiatives on the Arizona ballot, one that would raise the statewide sales tax to provide more money for schools and another that would modify the state’s primary election system.
The nonprofit had argued that its California contribution is protected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, but the judge said that was irrelevant to the current case.
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