Koch Brothers Exposed: Documentary detailing the crimes of the Koch brothers and the hijacking of US politics.
By Kim Barker, ProPublica
Two dark money groups linked to conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch have paid a record $1 million in fines to California to settle allegations that the combined $15 million they spent on two ballot proposals in the state was not properly disclosed.
The civil settlement, announced Thursday afternoon in Sacramento, caps a year of investigation into the activities of the two Arizona groups, Americans for Responsible Leadership and the Center to Protect Patient Rights.
The settlement disclosed new details in the case, including how the money was raised and how the Center to Protect Patient Rights disguised its two contributions to two California political committees. As part of the settlement, the Center to Protect Patient Rights conceded it was responsible for funneling $11 million through Americans for Responsible Leadership to a political committee spending money to fight a tax-hike measure and to support a proposition restricting unions' political power.
The Center to Protect Patient Rights also gave an additional $4 million to another dark money group, the American Future Fund, which gave the money to another political committee spending on the anti-union measure.
"What is the takeaway from this trail of dark money?" asked Ann Ravel, the outgoing head of California's Fair Political Practices Commission, which investigated the groups along with the state attorney general's office. "This is a nationwide issue. These groups exploit loopholes in the law to undermine the clear purpose of the law, to give essential information to the public."
The state assessed one $500,000 fine to the Center to Protect Patient Rights only, and another $500,000 fine to the two groups jointly. The state is also demanding that the two political committees "disgorge," or hand over, the $15 million they received in improper donations through the Center to Protect Patient Rights before the end of November. All of the money would go to California's general fund.
In an interview, Gary Winuk, the chief of enforcement for the California Fair Political Practices Commission, acknowledged that the state may have to go to court to recover that $15 million. One of the political committees has already closed down.
The settlement says California authorities determined that the Center to Protect Patient Rights "inadvertently, or at worst negligently," did not report itself as a donor to the American Future Fund. A similar decision was made on the group's lack of disclosure to Americans for Responsible Leadership.
In a statement sent through its lawyer, the Center to Protect Patient Rights said the commission recognized it erred largely because it had never before made contributions in California and that it had no intention to violate campaign reporting rules.
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