Tag Archives: e-filing

Political E-filing in California?

There's a big debate raging in the Senate as to whether Senate candidates should have to file online. You can read more about that at places like BigOrange. What doesn't appear in those posts is that we are having the same battle in Sacramento. 

Secretary of State Debra Bowen and the state Fair Political Practices Commission are reviewing the state's online public access system for political finance information and considering whether campaigns that file reports electronically can be exempted from submitting disclosure statements on paper. On Wednesday, attorneys for both Republican and Democratic campaigns argued that they are burdened with excessive staff costs in submitting paper copies of political spending reports under California's disclosure laws. (SacBee 9/27/07)

As a filer myself, I know it can be a real pain to fill out all of those forms by hand, and e-filing, if done properly, could expedite the process.  There are drawbacks, however. Flip.

Ross Johnson, head of the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC, California's version of the FEC), notes that paper has some very real advantages.

Johnson argued that the duplicate, paper copies that clog voluminous shelves and storage space at the secretary of state's office and state archives protect a fundamental right “to make available to ordinary citizens information on who is funding political campaigns.”

He argued that people who aren't comfortable with computers can't easily access information posted on the state's campaign finance information Web site, known as Cal-Access.

He also said key information — such as addresses of campaign contributors — cannot be posted online under state election disclosure rules but is included in hard-copy campaign documents accessible to the public.

I think this is a pretty silly point. So, he's arguing that we can't do e-filing because we can't display everything on the web.  Well, fine, then don't display it on the web. Have a few kiosks in Sacramento where that information is available, and a few around the state, probably starting in LA and SF.  That will allow everybody to have access to all that information without stopping e-filing.

 And then, perhaps more importantly there's this: if candidates don't see real paper in front of their face, they will deny any fraud.  

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a Sacramento nonprofit group that follows election technology issues, said the state should maintain hard-copy filing requirements — which mandate that candidates and campaign treasurers sign paper disclosure forms.

“What I'm concerned about is the candidate would be another step removed” with only electronic filing, she said. “We have had incidents in the past when candidates have denied knowledge of their contributions and reports. Those (signed) statements under penalty of perjury come in handy.”

And while this might be true, I think they are missing the true capabilities of the internet.  You know what I would love to see? A video of the candidate saying, “I read my campaign filings, and I take full responsibility for these filings.” Kind of like the “I approve this message” at the end of campaign ads. 

I feel like California is stuck in 1995 thinking.  Which, by the looks of Cal-Access, it is.  So, I know Debra Bowen is up on the Internets, so I'd love to see her dig right into this. Use the tools to the best to make disclosure easy while remaining effective.  There's a balance that can be struck.