© 1997 Contra Costa Times
Sunday, April 20, 1997 · Page A3

If Hawaii can put candidate finances online, why can't we

Daniel Borenstein

IF YOU WANT to know where candidates for governor of Hawaii or mayor of Honolulu got their campaign money last year, just log onto the Internet.

But for California, the home of the Silicon Valley, the idea of finding contribution data on the Information Superhighway is still a political pipe dream.

In Hawaii, Robert Watada, executive director of the state Campaign Spending Commission, started his job in February 1995, received approval within four months from the Legislature and the governor to put the data online, and had the system up and running a year later.

In California, we'll be lucky if it happens by the year 2000.

Campaign finance reform has been a lot like the weather -- everyone wants to talk about it, but the Legislature can't seem to do anything about it.

COMMON GROUND: In November, California voters, frustrated with the Legislature's inaction, passed their own campaign finance initiative.

In Washington, D.C., in the wake of the 1996 campaign funding debacles, everyone is dusting off reform proposals.

In Sacramento and D.C., they debate whether there should be contributions limits. They debate whether there is too much money in the system, or not enough. They debate whether political action committees should be outlawed, or curtailed. The debate, and the topics, are seemingly endless.

But the one thing upon which most seem to agree is that there should be full disclosure. In other words, voters should know quickly and easily where the candidates get their money.

What better way than making the information available on the Internet?

Anytime, day or night, anyone with a computer and a modem could find out where the dough comes from.

COMPARE AND CONTRAST: Currently in California, voters (and, yes, reporters, too) who want to find out this information have to go to the Secretary of State's office or the county elections office to look at hard copy (that's jargon for paper).

To find a particular contributor, they might have to thumb through hundreds or thousands of pages.

In Hawaii, a few clicks will tell you that three employees of KPMG Peat Marwick, the big accounting firm, each gave $5,000 to Gov. Ben Cayetano.

Honolulu mayoral candidate Frank Fasi paid his daughter $60,000 out of his campaign funds for "professional services."

Before the Internet program, says Watada, "all of these things were just tucked into these files and you weren't able to see them."

NO LOVE LOST: As you might imagine, this is not the sort of thing that many politicians want us to see -- at least not in California.

During the last legislative session in Sacramento, a proposal to put this information on the Internet died after bickering about whether contributors' addresses should be included and what computer software coding should be used.

Translation: There wasn't the political will to make this happen.

This year, the Legislature is taking another crack at it. Republican Secretary of State Bill Jones, and state Sens. Quentin Kopp, I-San Francisco, and Betty Karnette, D-Long Beach, are leading the charge.

Public awareness of campaign financing has surged. Suddenly, the fight seems to be over who will get credit.

Kopp on Wednesday watched a bill he authored that had Jones' backing die in the Senate Committee on Elections and Reapportionment, where Karnette is chair. Her bill passed.

"The issue," says Kopp, "seems to be do the Democrats or the Republicans get to take credit for it."

There's more to it. Kopp blames it on a feud between State Sen. Pro Tem Bill Lockyer, D-Hayward, and Jones. Lockyer is mad at Jones about an unrelated matter and wants to teach him a lesson, says Kopp.

But both bills would require two-thirds approval because they would be constitutional amendments. As a result, if the Karnette version makes it over to the Assembly, Kopp fears, Republicans there might block it in retaliation for Lockyer's treatment of Jones.

AIN'T GONNA TAKE IT NO MORE: Jones, while trying to be diplomatic about all of this, seems a bit frustrated.

"My goal is to keep it as non-political as possible," he says. "I'm not about to let politics get in the way of electronic filing being passed."

We'll see.

In the meantime, he is trying to hold the Legislature's feet to the fire. Last week, he announced that he will unilaterally set up a voluntary program for the 1998 elections. Any state candidate can participate..

Candidates will be provided software so they can electronically file their campaign statements. Jones' workers in turn will put them on the 'net.

It's a pared down version of the full, mandatory system Jones hopes to implement for the elections in 2000 if legislation passes. He's found the startup money in his own budget.

Now he's trying to shame the legislators into participating in the voluntary system for 1998.

"People are going to have to answer the question, 'Are you going to file electronically in '98 or not?'" he says. "What we're trying to do is break it loose."

JUST DO IT: While the voluntary program for '98 is a step in the right direction, the mandatory, permanent program's future is tenuous.

What's sad about all of this is that it's not rocket science.

"The whole thing can be built in three to six months, without question," says David Jefferson, research engineer for Digital Equipment in Palo Alto. His firm has helped the Secretary of State's Office with other 'net projects.

"It could be up and tested by the end of the year," says Kelly Kimball, whose firm, SDR Technologies, designed the Hawaii system and has been pushing his program in California for years.

But in California, the home of the computer industry, a project like this takes two years to make it through the state bureaucracy.

That's because of the Department of Motor Vehicles fiasco a few years back that left the state out $50 million for a new computer system that didn't work. Now there's a new agency that must review all computer purchases.

What that means is that there will be no mandatory system for 1998. And, if the Legislature doesn't move soon, there won't be one for 2000.

In the meantime, the dollars will keep pouring in the campaign coffers and the voters will have to pour through the hard copy if they really want to know the sources..

But, if you want to know how much money Hawaii politicians are raising, just log on to the 'net (http://election.sdr.com/hi96/). It's all there.

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