© 1996 San Diego Union-Tribune
Saturday, May 25, 1996 · Page A3

Political donors, lobbyists escape Internet exposure
Electronic-filing bill falters in Assembly

Dana Wilkie

SACRAMENTO -- GOP lawmakers have killed a plan to put campaign contributions and other political information on-line, even though the proposal was a top priority of a fellow Republican, Secretary of State Bill Jones.

The bill by Assemblywoman Jackie Speier, D-Burlingame, would have required political candidates, ballot-measure committees and many lobbyists to electronically file reports documenting how much money they raised and spent.

Such reports are required now, in paper form, but Speier's bill would have made the information available on the Internet.

Late Thursday, Republicans on the Assembly Appropriations Committee voted to hold the bill. This means it will not move to the Assembly floor unless Speier can find a way to revive her legislation. The committee's Democrats voted against holding the bill.

A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle, R-Garden Grove, said GOP lawmakers think that putting campaign documents on the Internet is a laudable goal, but that Speier's bill has problems.

In general, Republicans argue that it would cost the secretary of state at least $550,000 to put such a computerized system into effect, and that there might not be adequate safeguards to protect campaign information from on-line sabotage, or campaign donors from harassment by unstable Internet users.

Some lobbyists objected, too, saying the government should pay for the necessary computer software. This would not have been the case under Speier's bill.

Proponents of Speier's plan said it would be easier for average citizens to review campaign forms now available only at the Secretary of State's Office in Sacramento or at local election offices. Moreover, they said, a computerized system would eliminate the voluminous paper records of such filings, as well as copying costs.

Jones, who had made the bill one of his top legislative priorities, said he believed the Republicans' principal concern was that the system would cost too much.

"Both parties agree with (the concept)," Jones said. "It's a matter, I suppose, of spending the dollars."

But others said they suspect that some lawmakers don't want voters to have at their fingertips information revealing the corporate or special-interest groups which put huge amounts of money into their campaigns.

On-line disclosure "allows far too easy access to campaign contribution reports, and elected officials don't want their constituents to have immediate access to where they're getting their money from," said Ruth Holton, executive director of California Common Cause, a public-interest lobbying group, "but they're using all kinds of other excuses, like cost."

Privately, some people close to the bill said they believe Republicans quashed Speier's bill as retribution because Speier helped kill Republican-backed bills when she and fellow Democrats controlled the lower house before the GOP took over this year.

Her bill would have required electronic filing by all state-level candidates and ballot committees by 1999. In addition, lobbyists would have had to report what public issues they were lobbying on, how much their clients were paying them and what the lobbyists spent on gifts and meals for lawmakers.

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