Defending Campaign Finance Disclosure in San Francisco — San Franciscans Supporting Prop B v. David Chiu


At a Glance

CLC has joined a case defending a City of San Francisco disclosure law that requires certain campaign ads to include disclaimers listing the ad’s sponsor and the sponsor’s top contributors, enacted through referendum to ensure city voters receive immediate information about who is financing the election messages they see.

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About this Case

In May 2022, a ballot measure committee and several other political groups sued San Francisco, challenging the city’s recently-amended disclaimer law that requires election ads to list not only their sponsors but also the sponsor’s top three contributors, and — if those top contributors are committees — to list those committees’ top two contributors, i.e., “secondary contributors.” This law provides city voters with contemporaneous, “on-ad” disclosure about who is financing the election advertising they view, enabling them to make informed decisions at the polls.

The challenged provisions were enacted in November 2019 by over 75% of city voters as a part of Proposition F. San Francisco’s referendum is part of a nationwide trend — where jurisdictions from Alaska to Rhode Island to Hawaii have enacted similar transparency laws to provide their voters with immediate, “on-ad” information about the sponsors and the principal funders of election advertising.

The district court in June 2022 denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order and declined to block enforcement of the city’s “secondary contributor” disclosure provisions. The plaintiffs appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. In August 2022, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) joined the case to help, defending the constitutionality of the city disclaimer law and urging affirmance of the district court’s decision.

What’s at stake?

The plaintiffs argue that San Francisco’s disclaimer law unconstitutionally “compels speech” and that the contributor disclosure provisions sweep too broadly and may confuse voters. CLC points out, however, that the Supreme Court has consistently upheld disclaimer laws as important transparency measures that protect voters’ right to know who is attempting to influence their election choices. CLC’s brief also marshals the growing body of social science research that demonstrates how public disclosure of the sources behind election spending, particularly through contemporaneous on-ad disclaimers, equips voters with valuable informational shortcuts that facilitate knowledgeable choices on Election Day.

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