© 1997 San Jose Mercury News
Monday, June 2, 1997

Show voters the money -- online


A paper chase no longer is a workable way for news reporters and public advocates to catch up, before elections, with money donated in political campaigns. There's too much paper and too little time.

Last year, California campaign contribution filings totaled half a million pages. Good luck to anyone trying to analyze the information and tell voters who was bankrolling whom.

The irony is that many contribution reports are generated by computers, but then printed and turned in on paper. The same information on disks would open the way for instant analysis.

Secretary of State Bill Jones wants candidates to file electronically -- on a voluntary basis -- beginning with the June 1998 election. We'd like to see this become mandatory. It could, with passage of bills pending in the Legislature.

On Wednesday, there will be a floor vote on the tougher of two measures. This is SB 49, sponsored by Sen. Betty Karnette, a Democrat from Long Beach. Her bill was approved last week by the Senate Appropriations Committee, 12 to 0. It would require online filing by statewide candidates and ballot measure committees in 1998, and others by the year 2000. To prevent commercial use or harassment, donors' street addresses would not be included in online records.

A weaker bill, AB 63, is sponsored by Assembly member Jim Cunneen, a Republican from Cupertino. It has been amended to omit a donor's city, as well as the street address.

Since zip codes are not required either, Cunneen's approach makes the information much less meaningful for anyone examining how much of a candidate's money is raised in his or her district, and how much comes from outside donors.

In fairness to Cunneen, you have to consider that his fellow Republicans may be less excited about online advocacy and more concerned about personal privacy. But remember, Mr. Assemblyman: You can lead a horse to water, but it's only when he rolls over and barks that you know you've done something significant.

And something significant is what's needed. here. It takes a two-thirds vote of both houses to amend the California Political Reform Act, which a change in filing rules would do. This week should show whether the Legislature is willing to put its money where your mouse is.

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