© Los Angeles Times
Wednesday, September 24, 1997 - Editorial

A Tool Against Voter Apathy

Voter apathy and distrust in government have become palpable features of the social and political landscape of this country. One need look no further than recent elections to see how relatively few people bother to go to the polls. Concern over influence peddling, or the shadowy threat of it, runs deep as well.
But there are ways to reverse this malaise and suspicion. One is pulling public information out of the files of distant offices and displaying it in a manner far more accessible to citizens. Ready access to the data will make voters more knowledgeable, increase their sense of civic involvement and offer them a better feel for how the game of politics is played.
Gov. Pete Wilson can make a big move in that direction by signing a bill that has rolled through the Senate, 31 to 7, and the Assembly, 72 to 3. Senate Bill 49, the Online Disclosure Act of 1997, would require the posting of campaign and lobbying reports on the Internet, making them available to anyone with access to a computer and a modem. Statewide candidates, committees backing ballot measures and other groups would have to file the information with the secretary of state. It's a necessary step to bring politics into the Information Age.
"Voters want to know who contributes to campaigns," said Sen. Betty Karnette (D-Long Beach), chairwoman of the Senate Elections Committee and author of the bill. "This puts that information at their fingertips."
Wilson is said to have cost concerns about the bill and wants assurances that any system could be protected from computer-savvy malcontents who might try to alter information in a way that damages politicians and others. But the expense is minimal in comparison to other state budget items, and other states have managed to run security-conscious systems without break-ins. California can surely accomplish the same, and its citizens deserve nothing less.