© 1996 The Sacramento Bee
Wednesday, June 26, 1996 · Editorial

Don't kill election reform again

Opponents in the Legislature have been able to derail calls for electronic filing of campaign information several times this session, but the measure, probably the most important political reform in recent years, still has a chance.

After Republicans on the Assembly Appropriations Committee killed Assemblywoman Jackie Speier's AB 2546 late last month, prospects for electronic filing seemed to fade. A similar bill in the Senate had died in a committee dominated by Democrats, adding a bipartisan echo to its funeral dirge.

But don't bury the idea just yet. A measure by Republican Assemblyman Bruce McPherson, AB 1026, has been amended to incorporate most of the important provisions of the plan, and a vigorous public outcry over the fate of earlier efforts seems to be adding momentum to this iteration of the bill.

Electronic filing is important because it makes campaign contribution and spending information more widely accessible and easier to use. Candidates who receive more that $25,000 in contributions ($50,000 during a one-time phase-in period) would be required to file campaign reports electronically, and the state would have to make them available on the Internet. Lobbyists' reports, statements of economic interest and other documents required by the Fair Political Practices Commission are included in the mandate.

Making these disclosures electronic should make them public quicker, which is crucial if voters are to have reliable information before they cast their ballots -- say, about who is getting how much from trial lawyers, or tobacco companies, or public employee unions. It also makes them far easier to compare and examine and more widely available -- by putting them on the World Wide Web, for example, or e-mailing them across the Internet. AB 1026 is scheduled for a crucial hearing at the Senate Elections Committee on July 3.

Partisanship is a clear enemy of this important reform, though it may not be the only one. Democratic senators will be reluctant to give a Republican assemblyman a boost -- especially if he had continued to insist on naming the bill for himself. Assembly Republicans have already closed ranks once to torpedo a bill with a Democratic pedigree. And a lot of people in the Legislature might be just as happy if no bill passed.

Still, if both sides are embarrassed enough at the prospect of forcing the state to remain for yet another year in the quill-pen era of campaign reporting -- if they can set aside party maneuvering on the measure -- both can take credit for a very meaningful piece of campaign reform.

Justice Louis Brandeis once said, "Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants, electric light the most efficient policeman." In the information age, we may discover that the Internet is the most tireless of enforcers.

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