Commentary

05/05/2014  by Ed Coghlan

California Secretary of State candidates on modernizing Cal-Access


(photo by Bart van de Biezen)

The California statewide election contest is for Secretary of State is shaping up to be the most hotly contested. CA Fwd has a keen interest in the race because of the office’s role in promoting a fair and transparent electoral process and facilitating business formation..

All seven candidates will meet Tuesday night in San Diego for the last scheduled California Secretary of State Candidate Forum before  the June 3rd primary election, which will whittle the field to the top two vote-getters. For more information or to register to attend the CA Fwd co-sponsored candidate forum click here.

[Click here to find out what the candidates for California Secretary of State believe is depressing turnout. To learn how they plan to increase voter participation click here]

The Secretary of State is responsible for managing Cal-Access, the woefully outdated campaign finance and lobbying database that is clunky on the days it works and maligned by many, including Gov. Brown himself. Despite overwhelming agreement on the need to bring the database into the 21st century, plans to modernize the portal are progressing slowly.

So we asked the seven candidates to provide us a brief written response to the following question:

In a recent survey conducted by CA Fwd, 60% of the respondents strongly agreed that Cal-Access, the state’s campaign finance and lobbying database, should be modernized. Yet we hear a planned overhaul could take many years to complete. If elected, what steps would you take to ensure Cal-Access is upgraded in a shorter time frame? What if anything can be done right now?

Roy Allmond, Republican

“Be personally involved in the process to insure the implementation will be as soon as possible. Hopefully in time for the next election. That will be my goal.”

Derek Cressman, Democrat

“I will work to rebuild Cal-Access in house from the ground up, rather than taking the time and expense to outsource this.  I have already spoken with tech-savvy people in the non-profit world and Silicon Valley who are eager to help with this project as a public service, we just need to tap their expertise.  I’ll also work to code contributions by industry source, so we can track and aggregate the donations from an entire industry for each candidate and ballot measure.  Finally, we need to pull disclosure data from Cal-Access into the Official Voter Information Guide, so voters have information at their fingertips about the top ten largest sources of funds for each campaign.

David Curtis, Green

“Politicos can get their own Nationbuilder sites for like $29/ month. It allows real time financial database management through payment vendors like democracy engine. There are many such apps available in the market.”

Bowen (or her replacement) could issue a guideline to candidates/politicos that they are recommended to get NB or similar financial reporting software. That would decentralize the issue and cost the state zero dollars. (or very little)

Jeffrey H. Drobman, Democrat

“All the software developed for "voting modernization" since the Prop. 41 allocation in 2002 of $200 has been a train wreck -- severely underperforming.  We need an engineer and software developer like me to drive that train, and keep it on track.  Cal-Access itself is a mess.

“I would not engage large software firms, since their culture is to make code bases 10x more complicated than it needs to be, and take 10x longer than needed.  I would do a complete overhaul, starting with a top-down modular design, whereby any module could be assigned to a different team at a different company.  This would ensure higher security as well -- no single entity would know the entire code.  Then I would submit the result to testing by my hacker team to expose all vulnerabilities, and plug those security holes.”

Alex Padilla, Democrat

“Trust in government is essential to a strong democracy.   That begins by ensuring the public has access to a fast, reliable, online campaign finance database.  It’s past time to overhaul Cal-Access so voters know who is funding campaigns.  In the Legislature, I’ve worked with both parties to pass 80 bills, including laws to expand broadband access and create the state’s first ever earthquake early alert system.  I have a proven record incorporating the latest technology to make government more efficient and I will use that experience to get Cal Access working as Secretary of State.

But I wouldn’t stop there.  My Accountability and Campaign Transparency Plan would expand the information Californians have on who is funding political campaigns and strengthen campaign finance laws by banning fundraising during the last 100 days of session, requiring weekly, reporting online of campaign contributions and requiring campaigns to post all ads to a public website.”

Pete Peterson, Republican

“The pushed-for release of campaign finance data by the Secretary of State’s office last year has enabled “civic sector” organizations like Maplight to create their own free applications. Their “California Power Search” site is much easier to use than Cal-Access, and we should at least link to this from the Secretary of State website.

I propose the creation of a “Techies for CA Democracy” advisory committee to the Secretary of State’s office so we can bring in some of California’s great technologists to improve online civic engagement. We must convert the current bulk data into a more useable format, and host a statewide hackathon to help create a new interface.

On data visualization, the work done by the FPPC last year along with Code for America to create Open Judge from campaign finance open data is a great example of how we can present data in ways that are understandable to the public.”

Dan Schnur, No Party Preference

“During my time as Chairman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, I appointed a bipartisan task force that developed recommendations for updating the state’s Political Reform Act, which was passed in 1974 and had become hopelessly convoluted and confusing to citizens attempting to navigate the elections process. The task force found that Cal-Access could be upgraded to allow for 24-hour disclosure of all campaign contributions for a relatively small amount of money in a much shorter time period than we had been told. I sponsored legislation with bipartisan authors to upgrade Cal-Access, but the bill was killed in an Assembly committee.

The technology exists to fix Cal-Access. It can be done quickly and cheaply. All that’s missing is the political will in the legislature. California voters deserve to know who is paying for their politicians and the information must be available in real time, not weeks or months later.”

The Secretary of State is also responsible for business filings in the state. For the candidate’s thoughts on those issues, click here.

Categories: Democracy, Cal-Access, Elections, Tech-enhanced Government, Accountability, Transparency, Governance Reform, Cal-Access

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