OAKLAND — California’s former campaign finance watchdog is urging the state to investigate a mysterious funder of the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The campaign to topple Newsom recently received a $500,000 infusion from an Orange County-based LLC called Prov. 3:9 that has a minimal business presence and has not filed any of its own political disclosures.
In a letter to the Fair Political Practices Commission and the California Department of Justice, Ann Ravel — a Democrat who previously chaired the FPPC — urged a probe into the money’s true source. Her complaint warns that Prov 3:9 resembles “a shell company being used to evade disclosure of the person or persons funding the recall contribution.”
“What they have done is just set up essentially a shell that is truly a recipient committee receiving money from the person who set it up, as a pass-through,” Ravel alleged in an interview.
Why it matters: An investigation could shed more light on who is behind Prov 3:9, potentially reshaping the course of the burgeoning recall campaign.
The context: Beyond a few mandatory business filings with the state, Prov 3:9 has virtually no business or political paper trail. That has fueled speculation among California’s political classes that the entity is driven by a wealthy Newsom opponent who would rather remain anonymous.
Ravel has experience scrutinizing attempts to conceal the source of political cash. When she led the FPPC, the organization worked with the attorney general’s office to secure a $1 million fine against a pair of conservative political entities that had channeled $11 million from out of state into 2012 ballot initiative campaigns without disclosing the true source of the money. Ravel’s complaint explicitly cites that case as a justification for swift action on Prov. 3:9.
“As Chair of the FPPC at the time of the 2012 investigation, I am well aware of the importance transparency plays in our elections and the need for regulators to move quickly before elections when it is being subverted,” the complaint says, arguing that Prov 3:9 “should have filed either as a recipient committee or multipurpose organization, or named the true source of funds as the contributor rather than “Prov 3:9.”
A representative of Prov. 3:9 did not immediately return a request for comment.
Ravel has ties to Newsom but said she is not working for the governor nor advising him, although she said she notified a Newsom political adviser on the day she filed her complaint. Last month, the governor’s office sent reporters a Ravel quote praising Newsom’s recent internal ethics rules.
Rules: The 2012 case involved nonprofits, while Prov. 3:9 is set up as an LLC, which may be more difficult to crack under state law. The FPPC last year adopted additional rules requiring more disclosures by LLCs that receive at least $2,000 in a year from another source.
What comes next? If the state is to dig into Prov 3:9, it has a narrowing window to affect signature gathering efforts. And at least $286,000 of the Prov. 3:9 contribution has already had an impact in the form of “printing, mailhouse, data & postage” provided as in-kind donations, according to a filing that landed last week.
Recall proponents have until March to submit nearly 1.5 million valid signatures to get on the ballot. If they succeed, the election date is fluid, potentially occurring either late this year or in early 2022.