©1997 San Francisco Examiner
Wednesday, Sept. 10, 1997 - Editorial

By Examiner Editorial Writer

Political Reform via Internet

California has a chance, via a bill advancing in the Legislature, to put the "mother's milk of politics' on-line, as it were most public policy issues nowadays are too complex for easy solution. We sometimes can shed a tear for all those Sacramento legislators who, shoved this way and that by conflicting principles and pressures, would rather diddle daddle than take a stand. Well, that's not the case with Senate Bill 49, the Online Disclosure Act. It puts on the Internet the mother's milk of politics - the late Jess Unruh's oft-quoted description of donated money. And anyone can take a timely look.

SB49 isn't complicated. It isn't untested. Similar legislation has been in effect in San Francisco since 1993.

Moreover, SB49 is an easy solution. As of July 1 in the year 2000, the bill requires that contributions of more than $50,000 must be recorded on computer disks to be posted on the Internet. As it now stands, the Political Reform Act requires reporting of contributions - but to find them the public and press must sift through more than half a million pieces of paper filed weeks or months after the money is given. The daunting stacks of documents make it almost impossible for pre-election revelations that, for example, Sen. Nick O'Teen is in the pocket (deep) of the Coffin Nail Tobacco Corp. And after election day, the information isn't worth much bother.

The bill, sponsored by Secretary of State Bill Jones, also sets up a 24-hour filing deadline for contributions that arrive in the final days of a campaign. It appropriates $1.1 million for his office to set up the electronic system, but the public won't have to pay to inspect and download the Internet filings.

Supporters include the nonprofit California Voter Foundation, League of Women Voters of California, Common Cause, California Newspaper Publishers Assn., Consumers Union and CALPIRG (the California Public Interest Research Group), among others. The only overt opposition has come from some politicians and lobbyists. They claim Internet disclosure invades donors' privacy, a frivolous argument that nonetheless prompted SB49's author, state Sen. Betty Karnette, D-Long Beach, to erase a requirement for home addresses (but not hometowns) from information about donors.

SB49 sailed through the state Senate several weeks ago by a 37 to 7 vote. Amended in the Assembly, it was approved Monday by a vote of 71 to 3 and sent back to the Senate for concurrence. The final stop: Gov. Wilson.

It's not a done deal. Earlier in this decade of information technology - despite ostensible support from legislators seriously addicted to the mother's milk of politics - two similar bills were somehow sidetracked and spiked. Should it happen again, throw the rascals out.