© 1996 San Jose Mercury News
Monday, July 8, 1996

Campaign Finance Records Won't Be Online Anytime Soon

Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO (AP) -- The merits of electronic democracy and the promise of the Internet have led some to believe that the future may be now. But don't expect to find state campaign finance records online anytime soon.

A bill that would have put candidates' campaign contributions and personal financial records online for all to see was shelved Wednesday by a state Senate committee.

Those records are already available to the public in old-fashioned paper and ink form. But the author of the bill, Assemblyman Bruce McPherson, R-Santa Cruz, said electronic disclosure would "prevent secret government as we have known it."

"In essence, it gives the public more insight into who is influencing politicians, if that is the case," he said.

The bill had been approved by the Assembly on a 59-4 vote.

Electronic access to records would make it much easier, for example, to determine whether or not a state legislator who voted against a bill restricting tobacco sales received money from that industry.

Records of this kind are already online in San Francisco. Since 1993, candidates there who raise or spend more than $5,000 in a calendar year have been required to make electronic reports.

The cities of New York and Seattle and the Federal Election Commission also have electronic filing requirements.

The issue has come to the Capitol before, but was voted down by the same Senate Elections Committee that heard the new bill Wednesday.

Sen. Henry Mello, D-Santa Cruz, said he was one of the first in the Legislature to go online. But he said he wasn't sure every lawmaker has the resources to file records electronically.

"You just don't dial a number and get on the Internet," he said. "I just wonder whether or not people are going to be able to comply with this."

Another dispute arose over who would be required to make the electronic reports. The current bill establishes a pilot project that requires candidates and committees with a budget of more than $50,000 to make the reports. Lobbyists whose budgets run over that amount would also be included in the project.

Some opponents expressed concerns that the $50,000 threshold might involve too many people.

"There needs to be a serious pilot project," said Richard Baxter, who represents the Institute of Governmental Advocates, a registered lobbyists' organization.

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