This week a broad coalition consisting of good government groups, newspaper publishers, and lobbyists came together for one goal: fix our disclosure systems.
The thrust of the effort, led by CA Fwd, is a joint letter submitted to Governor Jerry Brown and legislators urging them to prioritize funding for modernized campaign finance (Cal-Access) and conflict of interest (Form 700) systems. In addition to accelerated funding, the letter calls for oversight of the projects to ensure milestones are met on-time and within budget or be left with projects that, as currently structured, could take years to develop at huge costs to the taxpayer.
As the database tracking all campaign finance and lobbying activity, Cal-Access is widely considered to be antiquated and unable to meet the needs of today’s Internet savvy voters and expensive campaigns. Gov. Brown himself has described it as “outdated and cumbersome” and in need of an update.
In addition to updating Cal-Access, the FPPC is seeking to develop an online system for conflict of interest forms. The vast majority of Form 700s are filed through paper form and filed away making access to ethics-related information expensive to maintain and difficult to access.
“These systems are essential to ensure public confidence is not lost due to outmoded government technology,” said Jim Mayer, president and CEO of California Forward.
Sacramento in the spring is a busy place. It’s the peak of lobbying season with major legislation and the State Budget headed towards deadlines. The capital city is especially busy during even-numbered years with campaigning in full swing and consultants, fundraisers, and candidates buzzing around every nook and cranny.
With so much activity taking place it is unlikely that everyday citizens can keep up with the pace of Sacramento politics. However, accountability of these activities can be made accessible and is key to solidifying public trust in our governing institutions and to root out abuse and corruption when they occur. The linchpin for political disclosure in California is Cal-Access and the FPPC’s Form 700 system.
“Laws compelling political finance disclosure have little impact if people can’t access the information. By putting adequate funding into modernizing Cal-Access, California demonstrates its genuine commitment to campaign finance and lobbying transparency,” said Emily Shaw, national policy manager, Sunlight Foundation. “Further, by funding the interoperability of campaign finance, lobbying, and asset disclosure data, California has the opportunity to become a national leader in political finance transparency. We look forward to being able to hold California up as a leading model of integrated political finance disclosure for public accountability.”
This year in particular presents a unique opportunity to ensure transparency does not languish of because of inaction. A new Secretary of State and a new FPPC chair provide the prospects to modernize these important systems and give fresh solutions to old problems.
Phillip Ung is the Director of Public Affairs for California Forward