© 1997 Los Angeles Times
Thursday, August 12, 1996 · Editorial

A 'Net Gain for California

Legislature should back electronic posting of

campaign data

Nearly everyone thinks it's a great idea to require the posting of state election campaign contributions and spending on the Internet. But legislation to require that keeps hitting stubborn resistance in the California Legislature.

SB 49, authored by state Sen. Betty Karnette (D-Long Beach), has passed the Senate and is cruising through Assembly committees. But insiders think the bill faces a tough fight on the Assembly floor later this month. Since the bill contains an appropriation, the measure requires a two-thirds vote to pass.

Karnette's measure, which has the support of Republican Secretary of State Bill Jones, would allocate $1.1 million to set up the Internet system in time for the 1998 elections. At present, paper reports are filed with the secretary of state in Sacramento and with county offices.

The first problem Karnette faced was the fear of some Republicans in the Assembly that an Internet posting of a candidate's report might subject contributors to harassment because existing law requires campaigns to report donors' street addresses. Karnette agreed to drop the street addresses and list only the city or town of residence. Some want to remove even that, but such a move would render the information almost meaningless.

Now there is concern about the cost, considering the sudden leanness of the state treasury following Gov. Pete Wilson's decision to pay back a $1.3-billion debt to the state pension fund all at once. Some suggest waiting until the next fiscal year, when there should be plenty of money available. To do so, however, would delay full implementation of the program until the elections of 2000, Karnette aides point out.

That should not be allowed to happen.

Surely $1.1 million can be found in a $67-billion budget.

Unless the state acts now, the bill's supporters fear, political organizations are likely to begin posting some selective campaign contribution information on the Internet, possibly in hopes of embarrassing opponents. For instance, Democrats might list Republican "fat cat" contributions or the GOP could post all the Democrats' help from organized labor. All the more reason for an impartial source of such information. And the time is now.

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