©1997 San Jose Mercury News
Tuesday, September 9, 1997 - Editorial

Who Gave How Much to Whom?

AMID the final days' flurry of this legislative session, California lawmakers have an opportunity to bring the state's almost 25-year-old Political Reform Act into the electronic age. We urge them to grab it. And we urge the governor to back them up with his signature.

Monday evening SB 49, which would require that contributions for state campaigns be available electronically, passed the Assembly in a landslide: At this writing, the unofficial tally was 71 -- 3.

Next, the bill goes back to the Senate, which passed it in June, for approval of the Assembly's amendments. Assuming the legislation makes it to the governor's desk, we hope he wastes no time in signing it.

Last year, California campaign contribution filing totaled half a million pages -- housed, for your viewing pleasure, at the secretary of state's office in Sacramento or mailed to you for a dime a page. Given that fully 25 percent of campaign dollars come in during the last two weeks before an election -- and sometimes don't get reported until after the election is over -- journalist can't possibly make it through the sea of names and numbers before election day.

Letting voters know who gave what to whom before election day is a main point behind disclosure. After the election, voters are stuck with the officials, and the interests of their benefactors, until the next election rolls around.

We believe the only significant concern expressed by opponents of the online records -- that donors' privacy would be compromised -- has been effectively addressed by the bill's author, Sen. Betty Karnette, D-Long Beach. She agreed to eliminate donors' street addresses, leaving just name, occupation, employer and city.

About a dozen other states have or are phasing in requirements for electronic filing of political contributions. Assembly members have done their part to bring about the same progress in California. With help from the Senate and Governor, it will actually happen.