California Supreme Court Rules Tribes Subject to Campaign Finance Law
In a narrow 4-3 ruling, the California Supreme Court last week held that Indian tribes are subject to the state’s campaign finance disclosure law. The ruling affirmed the ability of the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission to sue the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians for failing to comply with the law’s reporting requirements.
The Political Reform Act (PRA) was enacted in 1974 with the intent of preventing electoral corruption and informing California voters about receipts and expenditures. The state argued that a failure to hold that the law applied to tribal governments would allow tribes to influence state electoral and legislative processes while undercutting the state’s fundamental interest in electoral accountability.
The tribe responded that without an express congressional abrogation or a tribal waiver of its sovereign immunity from suit, the state shouldn’t be able to sue it for non-compliance with state law. The tribe also argued that under state law, the recipients of campaign donations from anyone or any group, including tribes, are required to file disclosure requirements. In other words, the information was available for those who would seek it.
The decision will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case is Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Superior Court, S123832.
We’ll discuss a couple of implications in the next post.