© 1996 The Sacramento Bee
Tuesday, April 30, 1996 · Editorial

Time for electronic filing

For more than two decades California has had in place some of the most stringent political and campaign disclosure laws anywhere in the country. State and local candidates and committees supporting or opposing ballot measures must report who donates to them and how much. Major donors -- the insurance industry, the California Medical Association, the state prison guards union -- must report which candidates they contribute to and how much. Lobbyists must disclose the bills or administrative issues they lobby on and who employs them to do it.

But this valuable information comes in very slowly and is inaccessible to most people. Most files are stored on paper at the secretary of state's office in Sacramento. To read them, citizens, reporters and rival candidates have to travel to the capital and comb through hundreds of pages of paper. It can be costly to copy the records. The average voter -- at best -- gets highlights from a few newspaper or television accounts.

Assemblywoman Jackie Speier has introduced AB 2546, sponsored by Secretary of State Sill Jones, which would bring this quill-pen system into the modern age. It would require candidates for state constitutional offices and ballot measure committees to file their campaign reports electronically by the 1997-98 election cycle. Senate and Assembly candidates and independent committees that receive more than $50,000 in contributions a year would have to start filing electronically by Jan. 1, 1999. Lobbyists would have to file their reports by 1999 as well. All files would be made available on-line. IF the bill has any flaw, it's that the timetables are too loose and the dollar figures are too high. Why shouldn't this be a requirement for every candidate for state office, and why defer the effective date for Senate and Assembly candidates until 1999?

Knowing what groups and individuals -- the National Rifle Association, or public employees unions, or conservative religious organizations or gambling interests -- finance an Assembly or state Senate campaign is important in predicting how that candidate will behave in office. Apparently, many lawmakers would prefer to keep that information from their constituents. Bills to require electronic filing of campaign information have consistently failed in past legislative sessions.

This year support for electronic filing has bipartisan support: The bill's sponsor is a Republican, and its author is a Democrat. As an inducement to better, cleaner politics, no campaign reform measure is more important. The measure deserves to pass.

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