© 1997 San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, January 12, 1997 ·

CALIFORNIA INSIDER -- Sacramento Balky About Listing Contributors Online
Voters elsewhere have a full Internet overview of the sources of their legislators' funds, but so far, California lawmakers have chosen to keep the curtains drawn

Robert B. Gunnison, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau

It sounds like a joke: If you can order a pizza on the Internet, why can't you find out who gave money to your state senator?

The punch line: Because the Legislature is involved.

Last year, at least four bills were defeated that would have allowed anyone with access to a computer to look at campaign contributors to state candidates and the expenditure reports from lobbyists.

Instead of having the information a mouse click or two away, anyone interested in getting a comprehensive look at who gives money has to trek to Sacramento. Less complete selections are available in San Francisco or Los Angeles. If you're really lucky, the files are in archives, and you can wait a while.

For a fee, the curious may purchase the information from either of two Sacramento-based firms. But that is an unlikely step for most people.

Many cities, including San Francisco, other states and even the federal government, have made such information available on the Internet.

But despite protestations to the contrary, few California lawmakers are eager for more public access to campaign spending reports. The lists often raise questions like: "Why did you take $5,000 from a guy who makes freeway sound walls from cow patties when you are carrying a bill to help the manure wall industry?"

In August, the year's last electronic disclosure bill was killed by a deft parliamentary move that avoided any embarrassing votes right before an election.

Many of the excuses for opposing the bills stretched credulity. Some had a dog-ate-my-homework quality. One senator mused about people in South Africa having access to the information.

Assembly Republicans worried that criminals might use the names and addresses to stalk contributors. Hackers might somehow rewrite the data or get hold of confidential records.

There were legitimate concerns, because state law requires disclosure of the names, addresses and occupations of contributors, along with the amount and date of the contributions.

Kim Alexander of the California Voter Education Foundation, one of the bill's staunchest backers, admits she would be unlikely to give money to a politician if her home address was going to show up on a Website.

Although the information is available on the paper copies of the reports, Alexander said, the Internet sets a different standard. "That brings another level of exposure," she said.

Another concern is software. If the state is going to require such filings, who should pay for the software? Should the state provide it? No, said the Assembly Republicans, ever vigilant in protecting private business interests.

This year, Senator Quentin Kopp, the San Francisco independent and author of one of the defeated measures, reintroduced his measure.

"I really think the Legislature understands the public is not going to put up with these delays," says Tony Miller, a board member of California Common Cause and leader of the successful campaign for Proposition 208, which limits campaign contributions.

"It's the most important thing we can do to reform the political process," he said. "The opponents, as in the past, will be underground."

Senator Richard Polanco, D-Los Angeles, who voted last year to send Kopp's bill to legislative Valhalla, has introduced a nearly identical measure. "The time is right," Polanco said in his office. "There were some real serious problems last year."

Senate President Bill Lockyer, D- Hayward, one of the Legislature's most computer-conscious members, was asked the other day if he supported electronic filing of campaign statements.

Lockyer said he supported the Polanco bill. Indeed, he is listed as a "principal co-author" of the measure.

Asked why he did not support the Kopp bill, Lockyer noted that Kopp's bill was supported by Secretary of State Bill Jones, a Republican.

Jones, Lockyer said, sent a mass mailing in a state Senate race last fall that accused Lockyer -- unfairly, in his view -- of killing anti-crime legislation. "I've saved that and kept it on my desk," Lockyer said.

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