Gaining access to Cal-Access

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(Photo Credit: Mark Orcutt)

More than $650 million was contributed to California campaigns in 2012—a sum that could buy a laptop for every student in Los Angeles Unified School District and still leave $300 million burning a hole in the collective pockets of legislators.

The Public Policy Institute of California hosted an event this week in San Francisco focused on the future of California’s elections.  Ann Ravel, Chair of the Fair Political Practices Commission, and Allan Zaremberg, President and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce, glanced over recent reforms like top-two primary, but settled on the need for campaign finance reform in light of the staggering influx of money in our democracy.

While $650 million can buy a lot of gear, Ravel and Zaremberg both agreed that money alone is not the problem plaguing California’s elections.  In fact, campaigns that engage voters and mobilize the masses toward the voting booth require substantial resources in a state as large and diverse as California.

Rather than attempt to slim down campaign contributions, the focus should be on “the large amount of money that is not disclosed”, said Ravel. “The whole purpose of campaign finance reform is to instill trust in government and to get people involved in the political system.”

At the heart of this transparency effort is updating the Cal-Access database. While the website is often referred to as “Cal-Lack-Of-Access”, Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) is hoping to revitalize the database with Senate Bill 3. If passed, SB 3 would take the initial step towards requiring the Legislature and Secretary of State to take action on developing a single, statewide electronic filing system that consolidates the plethora of campaign statements and reports that are currently buried in the Cal-Access system.

California Common Cause is the author and sponsor of SB 3. Philip Ung, a Policy Advocate at Common Cause, emphasized the importance of not only SB 3, but also legislation like SB 1001 that laid the ground work for this year’s transparency efforts.

“Since the Governor signed SB 1001 into law last year, Cal-Access finally has a dedicated funding source”, said Ung. In fact, SB 1001 taps into increased filing fees on lobbyists and campaign committees to fund the maintenance and improvement of Cal-Access.

In the wake of SB 1001, Ung is confident that “SB 3 takes the next step towards the development of a new system.”

While the price of elections may be high, the cost of allowing campaign contributions to hide in the shadows of a dated database is much higher. That is why the California Forward Action Fund, the 501(c)(4) sister organization of California Forward, enthusiastically supports SB 3 and the continuing reform efforts to restore trust in California elections.


Mark Orcutt

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