© 1996 Contra Costa Times
Friday, May 31, 1996 · Page A3
It's time candidates put campaign money where mouse isDaniel Borenstein
PUT UP OR SHUT UP: Politicians love to pay homage to campaign finance disclosure.
They disagree on the merits of public financing of campaigns. They disagree on the merits of contribution limits. But disclosure is another matter.
They may not like it. But the candidates know that, in this era when special interest money pollutes the political process, the public wants to know who is influencing whom.
At least that's the stated goal. There are some very practical problems. The Secretary of State's Office is flooded with paper. In 1994, 31,200 campaign disclosure forms containing 524,277 pages were filed with the office.
As a result, big-monied special interests can give hundreds of thousands of dollars in last-minute contributions that often go unnoticed until after Election Day.
Now comes a test to find out if state legislators really believe in disclosure or do they merely like to pay lip service to it?
ON RAMP: The solution is simple: Get on the information highway. Secretary of State Bill Jones, a Republican, and Assemblywoman Jackie Speier, D-Burlingame, are proposing just that. They want major state candidates to file electronically. And then Jones could put the information out on the Internet.
You, Mr. and Ms. Voter, could sit at your computer, type in a few words, click your mouse a few times and, presto, there you have it. You'll know how much a key tobacco lobbyist or teacher union gave to your legislator.
"This is the heart and soul of disclosure, as far as I'm concerned," says Bob Stern of the independent California Commission on Campaign Financing.
"The whole point of campaign disclosure is to find out who is contributing before the election, and we really don't have that information now."
At least six other states have some sort of mandatory filing. In California, the secretary of state, at the request of the Legislature, set up a 19-member committee of election officials, computer experts and watchdog group leaders who studied the issue before making recommendations.
Speier used the recommendations as the basis for legislation she introduced legislation that was abruptly killed in committee last week.
Today, Speier will try to revive the bill using a parliamentary move that would bring the bill straight to the Assembly floor. The move will probably fail, apparently not because of the merits of the bill but because of legislative egos.
The process of "removing a bill from committee" is considered a slap in the face of the legislative leaders.
As a result, Republicans who profess to support electronic filing including our own Assemblyman Richard Rainey, R-Walnut Creek, and even a co-author of the bill, Assemblyman Bruce McPherson, R-Santa Cruz say they'll oppose the move.
There's a lot of talk about reviving the legislation by placing it in another bill. "I haven't given up on it," says Jones. "My gut is it can still happen this session. I think it's the right thing to do. You can make the case on the merits of the measure without it being partisan."
OBSTACLES: Speier's bipartisan bill has become embroiled in partisan politics.
It was Republicans who killed the bill in committee last week. "What do the Assembly Republicans have to hide?" the Sacramento Bee asked in a scathing editorial Tuesday.
"Nothing better informs voters about how a candidate is likely to perform in office than who pays for the candidate's campaign, whether it be the tobacco industry and the prison guards or the teachers unions and environmentalists."
Opponents raise numerous objections:
- It's too costly, they say. The $550,000 onetime startup cost is less than the average cost of two Assembly campaigns. Certainly we can afford that to offset the far more costly effect of special interests.
- One computer software firm would get a monopoly, they say. This issue has been resolved. A compromise has been negotiated under which any company could sell the needed software. Each company could design its own features as long as certain basic computer protocols were met.
- Private information such as addresses of contributors would be put up on the Net, opponents say. The information is already public. The only information going out is what is already required for paper versions.
The bigger issue is whether politicians really want full disclosure.
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