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News Release: JUDGE UPHOLDS PROP. F “SUNLIGHT ON DARK MONEY” DISCLAIMER RULES; RE JECTS LAWSUIT BY REAL ESTATE LOBBYIST

February 20, 2020

For Immediate Release: February 20, 2020

Contact: Jon Golinger,(415) 531-8585

News Release

JUDGE UPHOLDS PROP. F “SUNLIGHT ON DARK MONEY” DISCLAIMER RULES; REJECTS LAWSUIT BY REAL ESTATE LOBBYIST

A federal judge ruled today that a new voter approved disclosure law requiring secretive political committees funded by big donations to reveal the names of their top donors in their campaign advertisements is constitutional, rejecting a lawsuit by a real estate lobbyist which argued that the new rules violate the First Amendment. The lawsuit aimed to strike down Proposition F, known as the “Sunlight On Dark Money Initiative,” which was approved by 77% of San Francisco voters in November 2019. Prop. F was sponsored by Supervisor Gordon Mar, former SF Ethics Commission Chair Peter Keane, and former Assemblymember Tom Ammiano. The lawsuit against Prop. F was filed by Todd David, the Executive Director of the developer-funded SF Housing and Action Coalition, who sued in his capacity as the Principal Officer of a committee called “Yes on Prop. B, Committee in Support of the Earthquake Safety and Emergency Response Bond.”

“The people of San Francisco passed the Sunlight on Dark Money measure with 77% support because it is clear that the culture of pay-to-play politics must end,” said Supervisor Gordon Mar. “I’m glad Judge Breyer agreed with us, and upheld the constitutionality of the strongest dark money disclosure law in the nation. We must continue to address dark money and pay-to-play politics, and this measure is a vital and important tool for increased transparency and accountability in our politics.”

“We are delighted that the judge has upheld Prop. F and resoundingly rejected this cynical lawsuit aimed at keeping voters in the dark so that secretive SuperPACs can hide the real agenda behind their campaign ads” said former SF Ethics Commission Chair Peter Keane, who co-authored Proposition F and filed an Amicus Curiae “friend of the court” legal brief in the case. “We applaud the City Attorney’s office for their strong and successful defense of the will of the voters.”

The lawsuit alleged that the rules requiring campaign ads by ballot measure and independent expenditure committees to disclose their top donors of $5,000 or more took up too much room in the ads and infringed on the rights of big donors who preferred to remain anonymous. U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer rejected those claims, citing the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC (2010) in his ruling: “Citizens United does establish that a disclaimer may commandeer a prominent position in a political ad without offending the First Amendment. That is the case here.”

Judge Breyer did grant a narrow injunction agreed to by the City that exempts the Prop. F disclaimer rules from applying to the plaintiff’s committee’s tiny ads where including the disclaimer would take up most of the ads. The judge only applied that exemption narrowly to Todd David’s Yes on B committee’s proposed 5” by 5” newspaper ads, smaller newspaper “ear” advertisements, and spoken disclaimers on digital or audio ads of thirty seconds or less. The judge’s ruling did not apply that narrow exemption to any other committee or any other ads.

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JudgeBreyerRuling_PropFlawsuit_2.20.20.pdf

PropFUpheldByJudge_NewsRelease_2.20.20.pdf

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