August 30, 1996 5:30 PM PDT

Senators vote down finances on the Net

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Politicians may open books on Net

August 30, 1996
In a surprising move, the California State Senate's Elections Committee today killed a bill that would have required state candidates to file their political campaign records on the Internet. As a result, the bill won't come up for review again until next year. The bill's proponents blasted the committee's action, which comes just as many other states are adopting similar legislation.

"California is on the cutting edge of change in campaigns and, in this instance, we are way far behind," said Kim Alexander, executive director of the California Voter Foundation.

California is home to Silicon Valley and has much of the nation's Net users, more than one-third by some estimates. The bill swept through the Assembly on Wednesday by a 65-4 vote.

The bill, SB 108, introduced by Senator Quentin Kopp (I-San Francisco), was torn apart by three of the five members of the committee present at the hearing, Alexander said.

"They nitpicked it to death and came up with every possible problem they could think of," she alleged. "They did have some legitimate concerns, but some of the problems they pointed out were ridiculous."

Alexander, who attended today's hearing in Sacramento, reported that Senator Dan Boatwright (D-Concord) said he wondered if, once on the Net, the campaign records would be subject the scrutiny of federal agencies such as Federal Communications Commission and interstate commerce laws.

Senator Henry Mello (D-Watsonville) apparently was concerned that people would download his records, delete the small contributions, and only make copies of his large contributions, according to Alexander. He thought this would mislead people into thinking he doesn't raise small contributions.

Both Boatwright and Mello have not returned calls for comment this evening.

Senator Kopp, along with a group of supporters including the League of Women Voters tried to address these concerns, but the staff came up with a "whole laundry list full of problems," Alexander said. As a result, the committee unanimously voted to table the bill until 1997.

The action not only is a disappointment to California voters, but also to the reputation of the state, Alexander contended.

Twelve states and cities have either implemented or are in the process of passing a similar bill, including Arizona, Florida, Michigan, and New York City.

Campaign records typically are difficult to access and require a lot of effort to sort. "If you want to accurately look at these documents, you need to come to Sacramento and go through tons of files," Alexander noted. "This has to change because people want to know who is financing these campaigns, and they have a right to know before they cast their ballot."

Alexander expects the bill to pass when techno-savvy members join the legislature. "Hopefully we'll have enough members who want to make this bill a priority," she said. "Hopefully they will be less hostile and not so insecure when it comes to technology."


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