Editorial by the Sacramento Bee
published October 14, 1997
copyright Sacramento Bee.

Electronic sunshine
Campaign disclosure on the Internet is a real reform

After years of resistance, the California Legislature has finally approved and Gov. Pete Wilson has signed into law a bill to put campaign finance records on the Internet. The bill, SB 49, authored by Sen. Betty Karnette, is easily the most important political campaign reform of the decade.

It means that -- starting in 1998 and more fully when finally implemented by 2000 -- ordinary citizens will be able to go to their home computer or one at the nearest public library and find out who bankrolled the governor's last election or the campaign of their local senator or Assembly member. Candidates for state offices, major contributors and independent campaign committees have had to file campaign finance reports for a quarter-century, but the information has been kept on hard-to-access paper files at the secretary of state's office in Sacramento or in election offices in the 58 counties.

Most politicians liked it that way. Knowing that it would make it easier for their constituents or reporters to find out who paid for their elections, Democrats and Republicans repeatedly fought off efforts to require the electronic filing of campaign finance information that is now mandated in the Karnette bill.

Karnette deserves credit for authoring and steering the disclosure measure through a contentious Legislature, and the governor deserves credit for signing it. There were other champions as well: Republican Secretary of State Bill Jones consistently bucked powerful interests in his own party to push disclosure almost from the day he took office.

When it looked as though the Republican Assembly caucus might lobby the governor to veto the bill, Assemblymen Jim Cunneen and Peter Frusetta persuaded their caucus to endorse a letter instead urging the governor to sign the bill. Former Assemblywoman Jackie Speier, a Democrat, Sen. Quentin Kopp, an independent, and Republican Sen. Bruce McPherson all carried electronic filing bills in past sessions that didn't make it to the governor's desk, but helped sharpen the debate.

Finally, Kim Alexander, executive director of the California Voter Foundation, deserves special recognition. Under Alexander's leadership, the foundation has kept pressure on the Legislature and kept the disclosure issue alive.

Democracy is stronger in California today because of the efforts of all of them.