06/25/2014 by Dominic Munoz

Several bills aim to improve transparency and confidence in CA elections


This group of bills would increase focus on campaign transparency and better informing Californians on ballot initiatives

Several elections-related bills currently making their way through the Legislature were heard in the Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee this week. On the agenda were four bills endorsed by the California Forward Action Fund directed at increasing transparency and voter confidence in the electoral process.

Phil Ung, California Forward’s Director of Public Affairs, testified before the committee in support of SB 844, SB 52, SB 1442, and SB 1253. Three of the bills (844, 52, and 1442) seek to increase campaign finance disclosure, while SB 1253 aims to provide voters with clearer and more thorough information about state ballot measures. 

If approved, SB 844 would require the Secretary of State to develop, publish, and maintain an up-to-date list online of the top 10 contributors for and against each proposition. To ensure public awareness, the legislation would also require voter information pamphlets to refer readers to the donor lists online. Easier access to funding data helps arm voters with the information required to confidently cast a well-informed ballot. 

Another bill, SB 52, aims to combat misleading voter information by providing greater transparency in political ads. The DISCLOSE Act, as it's commonly known, would reveal the individual funders behind a campaign ad by requiring the names of top three donors be clearly identified at the beginning of each ad. The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) will also be responsible for reporting and tracking political ad funders beginning on January 1, 2016. To determine the validity of confusing, and often misleading, campaign ads, voters need to know who is spending millions to sway their vote.  

Want to know who is spending millions to influence California legislators and elections? SB 1442 attempts to make it easier to find out. The legislation would double the amount of disclosure by switching from a semi-annual to a quarterly campaign finance reporting system. Providing easier access to timely campaign finance data is an important step toward improving public trust in government. 

Time and again voters have said they love the initiative process, but they've also admitted it's confusing. In an effort to tackle this problem, SB 1253, the Ballot Initiative Transparency Act (BITA), aims to increase clarity and transparency in the initiative process. The bill would establish a 30-day public review period for future ballot measures and mandate the Secretary of State to create a one-stop shop for ballot measure information written in plain language accessible online.

All four bills passed out of committee with little to no opposition and are now headed to appropriations.

Expanding access to the information that these bills cover is necessary in the wake of a scandal plagued start to 2014 for the California Legislature. A message must be sent loud and clear that our state government is willing to grant public access to as many facets of the electoral process as possible. By exposing more financial dealings of campaigns and committing to broader education of voters on initiatives, the Legislature is laying the foundation for a new level of trust in state government.

(photo: Flickr/Marco Magrini)

Categories: Democracy, Elections, Initiative Reform, Tech-enhanced Government, Accountability, Transparency

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