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Campaign Disclosure


One of the most important resources voters need to make informed choices on Election Day is campaign finance data. Fortunately, access to this data has greatly improved over the past decade, and California voters can now quickly discover which interest groups are backing a particular candidate or proposition with money.

The California Voter Foundation is dedicated to helping the public gain timely access to reliable campaign finance disclosure data, and has been at the forefront of the movement to advance Internet disclosure of these crucial public records since 1995. That year, CVF teamed with the San Francisco Registrar of Voters and Digital Equipment Corporation to produce the world's first real-time, Internet campaign finance database for San Francisco's municipal election, demonstrating how mandatory electronic filing of campaign finance records can result in instant Internet disclosure.

In 1996 CVF broke new ground with its "Late Contribution Watch" project, data-entering last minute California campaign contributions and posting daily tallies on the Internet. Previously, contributions made in the last days and weeks of a campaign -- accounting for as much as 25 percent of a candidate's total contributions -- were largely inaccessible until after Election Day. CVF's Late Contribution Watch changed that, and by 1998, the California Secretary of State adopted the idea and started posting last-minute contributions on the SOS web site.

After years of failed legislative attempts to require online disclosure of campaign finance records, the California Legislature finally took the step of requiring Internet disclosure with the 1997 passage of the Online Disclosure Act, a landmark bill requiring state campaigns to disclose contributions and expenditures on the Internet. CVF's efforts to publicize the legislation were widely credited as instrumental in raising public awareness of, and support for, mandatory electronic filing laws, and today all major California candidates for statewide and legislative office file campaign disclosure records over the Internet.

CVF's campaign disclosure work continued in 1998 with the creation of an online database of contributions to statewide campaigns, the purpose of which was to demonstrate how a simple database and search interface could vastly improve accessibility to electronically-filed campaign finance records and greatly enhance the usefulness of those records. Following publication of the 1998 database and throughout 1999, CVF worked with the California Secretary of State's office to provide feedback on the development of Cal-Access, the state's online campaign finance disclosure system that debuted in early 2000.

Also in 1998, CVF researched and published its first Top Ten Contributors List for California candidates and propositions. The Top Ten list, detailing the top donors for each statewide candidate and ballot measure, became a regular feature of CVF's 2000 and 2002 California Online Voter Guides and one of the most popular features of the CVF web site.

The California Voter Foundation expanded the scope of its campaign disclosure work in 1999 with the publication of the Digital Sunlight Awards, a nationwide survey and forecast for Internet disclosure of money in politics. That survey later informed CVF's participation in the Campaign Disclosure Project and work on Grading State Disclosure 2003, another state-by-state disclosure study that took a more comprehensive look at campaign disclosure in the 50 states.

For more information about CVF's efforts in the area of campaign finance disclosure, visit the Digital Sunlight and Campaign Disclosure Project web sites.

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This page was first published on February 12, 2004 | Last updated on January 27, 2006
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