April 17, 1997 1:00 PM PDT

Calif. to digitize campaign reform

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The California Senate Elections Committee approved a bill yesterday that would cast "digital sunlight" on high-priced campaigns in state elections.

Campaign finance reform has been a hot topic in the California Legislature this week, as politicians begin to understand online democracy. As a result, the Net has become a pivotal part of plans to increase public awareness about big-money campaigns.

Yesterday, the Elections Committee killed one bill to put campaign records on the Net and approved another, introduced by its chairwoman, Sen. Betty Karnette (D-Long Beach).

Karnette's bill would require candidates and ballot measure committees to report their campaign finances on the Net by June 1, 2000, if their total contributions or expenditures exceed $100,000 in primary elections and $50,000 in general elections.

Karnette's bill also calls for campaign finance numbers to be filed on disk by next year. There is no plan yet to transfer those filings immediately to the Net.

The committee scrapped state Sen. Quentin Kopp's (I-San Francisco)bill, which would have put records of campaigns that grossed $50,000 or more online by 2000.

"We are disappointed," said Random Henry, a spokesman for Kopp. "There are two other bills that are still alive, however. These bills aren't too different. Senator Kopp is supportive of any bill that provides for electronic filing of campaign contributions."

On Monday, the Assembly also approved an electronic-filing bill introduced by Rep. Jim Cunneen (R-Cupertino). His legislation also requires candidates for state office to file records online if the total amount of campaign contributions exceeds $50,000.

Both bills will now go to the Fiscal Committee and must be voted on by May 30. If approved at that level, they would go to the floor for a vote sometime by summer.

But deep-pocketed campaign contributor records may get online before the turn of the century.

Secretary of State Bill Jones announced this week that he start a voluntary electronic filing system. The operation will be online in time for the 1998 gubernatorial election.

The voluntary system is being overseen by SDR Technologies, which has created electronic filing systems for San Francisco, Hawaii, and the Federal Elections Commission. This system will cost no more than $50,000, according to the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.

"This is a crucial development because, even if the Legislature passes a mandatory electronic filing system this year, the soonest that system can come online is for the 1999-2000 election cycle," said Kim Alexander, executive director of the foundation.

"Both the Legislature and the secretary of state are working very hard now to bring about online access to these campaign finance records," Alexander said today. "That's good news for people who want to take a closer look at who is financing California politics."

 

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