© 1996 Bakersfield Californian
June 9, 1996 · Editorial

Use Internet to ID donors

If you can't change the cash-based system that fuels California's political campaigns, let the light shine on it.

For years, California voters have attempted -- through the initiative process -- to curb the political influence of special interests, big business and wealthy individuals who give their money freely to finance candidates for state and local offices.

Based on the belief that money is the root of all evil -- and certainly the root of political corruption -- voters have passed initiatives to set limits on campaign contributions.

However, the courts have blocked these initiatives, ruling such restrictions on candidates and donors are unconstitutional.

If the power of the campaign contribution dollar cannot be curbed, at least let Californians know where those dollars are coming from and which candidates have their hands out.

Perhaps this will allow us to better understand the support special interest groups and individuals receive from state lawmakers, county supervisors, city council members and local district directors.

Assemblywoman Jackie Speier, D-Burlingame, set out to shed some light on campaign contributions with her public access bill, AB 3546, which had the support of Secretary of State Bill Jones, a Republican.

Speier proposed to have all candidates for state offices -- statewide constitutional offices, as well as Assembly and Senate -- file their required campaign contribution reports electronically with the Secretary of State.

These reports would then be made available on the Internet -- through the state home page. Rather than being accessible to only the hardy government junkie willing to make a trek to Sacramento where some of these reports are filed, the information would be given wide distribution. Scrutiny by anyone with a computer, or access to a computer would be relatively easy.

Two votes this month -- one in the Assembly Appropriations Committee and the other in the full Assembly -- effectively killed Speier's bill for now.

The votes divided along partisan lines, with the Democratic majority generally favoring the bill and the Republicans either voting against it, or abstaining.

Efforts are under way to attach the proposal to another measure. Some in Sacramento believe the desire may be to snatch the idea from Speier, a Democrat, and give it to a Republican lawmaker in an attempt to shift credit for election reform.

Regardless of who gets the credit, using the Internet to distribute much-needed information about state campaign contributions should be implemented. In fact, the idea is so good that it should be applied to local officeholders.

Several Kern County departments have launched fledgling home pages on the Internet to provide constituents with information about government services. Cities throughout the state also have experimented with this effective information highway.

Government information available on these home pages should include campaign contribution statements, as well as the required "economic interest" statements elected and appointed city, county and district officials must file.

These reports track the source of campaign donations, as well as the personal income sources of government officials. Constituents are entitled to know who and what their elected and appointed officials are beholden to.

Let the light shine in! Use the Internet to distribute this information.

These reports now are scattered in various county, city and district offices. Truly only the hardy, determined and knowledgeable constituents can find and examine many of these reports.

If the public officials are willing to take contributions and income from sources, they should be equally willing to share this information with constituents.

Working together, Kern County and the cities and special districts in the county must develop a coordinated system on the Internet -- a system of connected home pages -- that would allow campaign and economic interest information to be consistently presented to all Kern County residents.

We urge the Kern County Board of Supervisors to take the lead in forming a task force of county agencies and cities to begin developing a home page network to provide public access to this vital information.

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