©1997 San Francisco Examiner
Sunday, October 12, 1997
State Campaign Finance Reports to go on Internet
SACRAMENTO -- A high dose of "digital sunlight" is about to be cast on California's complicated and expensive political chine, under a landmark bill signed Saturday by Gov. Wilson.
California soon will join a dozen other states putting campaign finance reports on the Internet -- giving the public greater access to a realm now inhabited mostly by reporters and political insiders.
"This represents a monumental change in the way the public will be able to scrutinize the role money plays in politics," said Kim Alexander, executive director of the California Voter Foundation, a chief supporter of the measure.
Wilson's signature on the Internet bill comes two days before his deadline to sign more than 700 bills sent to him during the 1997 session. The Republican governor also approved a long-debated measure to regulate cardroom gambling in California and approved a new system to speed up Death Row appeals.
Some lawmakers publicly worried the Internet filing measure would open their donors to harassment and privately fretted about the unprecedented exposure the global and unregulated Internet will bring to their campaign statements.
Currently, the public must wade through a 17-foot-long row of campaign documents housed at the secretary of state's Sacramento office or at county registrars of voters. California's 1995-96 election cycle reaped $155 million in contributions -- and almost every dime of it must be reported under the state's Political Reform Act.
"Campaign information has, for years, been public in name only," said the law's author, Sen. Betty Karnette, D-Long Beach. "Political insiders, reporters, watchdog groups and a few dedicated individuals were the only people who could really dig through the avalanche of paper."
Secretary of State Bill Jones already has started a voluntary program for the 1998 election. But by the 2000 primary, candidates, committees, lobbyists and initiative groups accepting more than $100,000 are required to report their contributors on-line. The threshold is lowered to $50,000 in contributions starting July 1, 2000.
And, significantly, the new law requires contributions that come within days of an election to be reported on the Internet within 24 hours. By waiting until the last minute, donors can sometimes escape attention in the hectic time before an election. Putting the records immediately on the Internet means an immediate public spotlight.
Karnette agreed to remove addresses from the Internet site to protect donors from harassment, but refused to take out the donor's home city, as some Republicans had requested.
Anyone with a computer and an Internet hookup will be able to access the reports and customize a search, for example, to look for all donations from tobacco companies over $10,000 during a certain month.
"For the past 25 years, voters have been saying, "Show me the money,"' Jones said. "Beginning the next election cycle, they will finally be able to see the money for themselves."
Approval of the gambling-control bill came during a subdued ceremony with Senate President pro tem Bill Lockyer, D-Hayward, who carried the measure for five years only to see his efforts dissolve in the final days of legislative sessions.
Lockyer, who is considering a run for state attorney general, said the signature was the result of "negotiations which were made particularly difficult by the legitimate but conflicting interests of many businesses, and state and local agencies."
The law continues a ban on new cardrooms through 2001 and requires a majority vote by local communities to expand gambling after then. It pays for an 81-person Division of Gambling Control in the attorney general's office to regulate, audit and investigate cardrooms, except those run by Indian tribes governed by federal treaties.
The attorney general's office estimates $9 billion a year is gambled at 173 cardrooms in California. The number of cardrooms actually has decreased, but the number of tables has risen dramatically, meaning the cardrooms are getting bigger and flashier, said Attorney General Dan Lungren.
A three-member Gambling Control Board will set regulations and handle disputes and appeals. By 1999, a five-member Gambling Control Commission, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate, will take over with powers similar to Nevada's regulatory agency.
The operative word for Saturday was "finally." Last year's effort to regulate gambling ended after a few lawmakers tried to amend Lockyer's bill at the last minute. Lockyer yelled, "F---you, Mr. Termed Out," at a colleague he confronted in the hallway, then shut down the Senate for the year.
"Finally," Lungren said Saturday, "Californians can be confident that an adequate regulatory strategy is now in place. ... I have seen the cardroom industry change from a supplemental income for Mom-and-Pop businesses to flashy casinos that rival Las Vegas."
Saturday, Wilson also signed a measure to increase the number of defense attorneys who represent Death Row inmates in their appeals. Wilson said 154 inmates currently have no counsel, about one-third of all Death Row inmates. It takes between 10 and 15 years to exhaust all appeals, and lack of defense attorneys can mean a two-year delay.
The measure, carried by Lockyer, would relieve the state public defender's office of some of its appeal responsibilities and set up a new office with at least 30 attorneys to represent inmates in both state and federal courts. Under the current system, further delays are added because different attorneys are needed for both state and federal appeals.
"For the death penalty to be a true deterrent to crime, criminals must know that it will be swiftly and surely enforced," Wilson said.