(photo credit: Julien Gong Min)
This week Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a measure designed to foster greater transparency and voter confidence in the electoral system. Senate Bill 3 sought to modernize California’s antiquated campaign finance lobbying database and require campaign treasurers to undergo training.
Political money can affect policy decisions as donors often expect a return on their investment. “People can’t make informed choices at the ballot box unless they can follow the money and recognize the political forces at work,” said Jennifer A. Waggoner, president of the League of Women Voters of California. But Cal-Access, the state’s crash-prone campaign finance disclosure portal, makes it difficult to follow the money.
Despite rejecting Senator Leland Yee’s (D-San Francisco) bill to bring California’s campaign finance disclosure system into the 21st, Brown acknowledged the need to overhaul Cal-Access.
“There is no doubt the current system — widely viewed as outdated and cumbersome — needs upgrading,” Brown said in a release explaining the veto. As a result, the Governor added he would direct several state agencies to develop “recommendations on the best way to improve campaign disclosure.”
Brown balked at the provision mandating that the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) develop an online training course for campaign treasurers, calling the course a “costly and unnecessary addition to the extensive training and outreach that the commission already provides.”
Not only are California’s campaign finance laws complex, they’re constantly evolving. The FPPC provides free courses throughout the year to keep up with this evolution, but treasurers aren’t required to complete them.
In an effort to ensure elections are conducted fairly and legally as campaign coffers swell with more and more cash, the bill would have required campaign treasurers receive mandatory training in campaign finance laws. Proponents of the bill claim that requiring treasurers be certified would help build voter confidence in the political process.
And although Brown cited cost as a reason for objecting the bill, supporters argue that prevention is more cost-effective than prosecution. Ensuring all treasurers have a basic understanding of how to comply with California’s campaign finance laws would reduce the number of violations each year by preventing them before they happen.
“Although we disagree with Governor Brown on the need for mandatory treasurer training based on the needs we have witnessed across the state, we nonetheless see Senate Bill 3 as a victory for campaign disclosure,” said Philip Ung, Policy Advocate for California Common Cause, a sponsor of the bill.
“The Governor’s admission that Cal-Access is ‘outdated and cumbersome’ and the executive actions he has taken are a step forward to improving transparency in our elections. This action would not have been taken without the pressure from the Legislature, voters, and organizations like Common Cause and the League of Women Voters of California,” Ung said.
A transparent and secure electoral process is essential to restoring the public’s trust. Voters need to know who’s spending money to influence California elections and legislators. Removing technological barriers that impede public access to campaign finance data and guaranteeing that data is accurate helps hold public officials accountable to the public interest and not special interests.
“Although the Governor’s veto of SB 3 is a disappointment, we’ll work with his administration to achieve well-trained campaign treasurers and more transparency overall. This problem isn’t going away, and neither will we,” said Waggoner.