© 1997 San Francisco Chronicle
Tuesday, June 10, 1997 · Editorial

One Step Closer To Online Disclosure

FOLLOWING a shameful exhibition last year in which California lawmakers refused to take the logical and simple step of requiring campaign contributions to be filed online, the state Senate has redeemed itself by approving the Online Disclosure Act of 1997.

Now it's the Assembly's turn to demonstrate such enlightenment.

On a 31-to-7 vote, the Senate last week approved a bill, SB 49, by Senator Betty Karnette, D-Long Beach, which requires that all state campaign and lobbyist disclosures be filed electronically.

In the wake of last year's defeat of such measures, Secretary of State Bill Jones said he would make an online system voluntary, an action that may have forced some lawmakers to re-evaluate their positions against the online bills. Being pinpointed as a politician unwilling to stand up for full and open disclosure of campaign connections does not sit well with voters.

Legislators have voiced some objections to electronic disclosure that they argue have nothing to do with the issue of openness, such as requiring creation of low-cost software and setting criminal penalties for commercial use of the contribution lists and for inaccurate information that conceivably could be the result of computer error.

Some of those concerns are legitimate, but too many legislators were only too happy to focus on technical glitches that could have easily been worked out if they had been truly serious about making campaign contribution information available on the Internet. Mandatory electronic filing avoids the environmentally distasteful requirement that 550,000 sheets of campaign contribution reports be sent to Sacramento for each major election.

Under Jones' voluntary program, lawmakers would still be required to file paper documents even when filing via computer. Karnette's bill would eliminate the paper filing requirement altogether after an overlap period.

The measure is expected to be heard in the Assembly elections and appropriations committees within the next few weeks before going to the Assembly floor. Bills must be out of the Assembly by July 18. In the name of good and accessible government, Assemblymembers should make sure Karnette's bill makes it to the governor's desk.

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