California Secretary of State Debra Bowen has a change of heart

150 150 Christopher Nelson

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen had a change of heart for the better today.

A coalition of media, transparency, and reform groups, including MapLight, California Common Cause and California Forward, sent Sec. Bowen a letter last month with the simple request that every day, her office “upload a copy of the Cal-Access database to a publicly accessible website where data can be downloaded as a single file by members of the public and the media.”

As it stands now, a CD-ROM can be requested, but it takes a few days to travel by mail whereas an online database would be instantly accessible and far more public-facing. 

“When millions of dollars are being raised and spent every day during election season, a downloadable version of the database, made available daily, is what Californians need and deserve in order to know who’s funding public elections,” said Daniel G. Newman, founder and CEO of MapLight, in an email.

Initially Sec. Bowen balked, claiming that the costs outweighed the benefits and that there are privacy law concerns when posting financial contribution information online.

But the coalition persisted behind closed doors and after agreeing upon implementing by Labor Day of this year, Sec. Bowen publicly reversed course on the request, adding in a statement that “[o]nce the raw format of the data is also available daily through our website, anyone with the technological expertise can write their own tracking program.”

“This is a major victory for public access to campaign finance and lobbying data. After months of discussions and initial roadblocks, Common Cause is happy to join with our partners to make this solution possible,” said Philip Ung, Policy Advocate for California Common Cause. “Agencies throughout the state should follow in Secretary Bowen’s example to make public data public.”

The request is riding a growing in-state appetite for more transparency when it comes to money in politics, which in turn stemmed from the millions of dollars illegally funneled into California during the last election cycle. California Common Cause helped expose the political money laundering in that incident and the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), led by Chair Ann Ravel, saw it through.

The FPPC is proving to be a staying force in this area, using the public’s will and Chair Ravel’s growing clout in Sacramento to target other areas where California can be brought into the 21st Century in terms of its transparency efforts surrounding elections and campaign finance.

We at California Forward will continue to forge partnerships with Chair Ravel and all other individuals, lawmakers and organizations sharing in the same vision that our Executive Director Jim Mayer puts forward:

“We applaud the Secretary of State for making campaign finance information even more readily available and accessible to Californians. Thanks to Common Cause and MapLight for leading this effort for greater data transparency. Californians have been telling us for years they want a government they can trust. California Forward believes the cornerstones of good government is transparency and accountability.”


Christopher Nelson

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