Commentary

03/17/2014  by Ed Coghlan

REPORT: Rebooting Campaign Finance Disclosure in California


(photo: -Reji / Flickr)

Ask Californians what they think about our political process (something California Forward has been doing since 2008) and they’ll tell you a number of things.

There is one area that comes up constantly: the influence of money and the special interests. Simply put, Californians want to know who is paying for campaigns and influencing our elected officials.

California actually has some of the strongest reporting systems for campaign finance and conflict of interest in the country – its getting a hold of that data that’s the problem.

That’s why on this first work day of Sunshine Week, as  open transparent government is being promoted around the world, CA Fwd has released a report on the topic called “Rebooting Campaign Finance Disclosure”.

[To read the report click here]

As Governor Brown said last year in his veto message of SB3, “there is no doubt the current system needs upgrading."  It does. He has directed state government officials to make recommendations about what those upgrades should look like and cost.

To bolster this work, CA Fwd’s Partnership for Public Accountability produced today’s report after talking with numerous technology consultants, public agency officials (both in California and across the U.S.) and others who are interested in improving disclosure.

It should be noted that the winds of positive change are blowing in California. The political reforms that have been enacted (many of which CA Fwd worked with others to help bring to life) are encouraging leaders to be more responsive. But more reforms are needed to the electoral process, the initiative process and to transparency laws to create government accountability for results.

This report contends that technology-enhanced transparency is not only essential to improving governance in California – but strong models and the technology to implement them are ready at hand. Many tools developed right here in California that have revolutionized the private sector have the potential to do the same in the public sector. The State should embrace them without delay; it’s time that potential is turned into action.

The report shows how other states are leading on disclosure, describing the wide array of systems for electronic and tools for public access to information. While the report doesn’t advocate for specific vendors or tools, it does review key considerations between “open source” and more traditional vendor solutions, and more importantly, how to approach projects that include vital and sensitive data.

This report is an extension of the work CA Fwd has already been doing with the Fair Practices Political Commission in its efforts to modernize Form 700 filings in California, with the Government Operations Agency as it prepares its response to Governor Brown’s directive, and with numerous state and local agencies who are seeking models for increasing efficiency and public access through technology.

The report is a follow-up to the “State of Transparency” that was released by CA Fwd last March which discusses steps to modernizing the government’s interface with the public.

Later during Sunshine Week (Thursday March 20), as part of efforts to build public demand for greater access to data, CA Fwd will convene a number of speakers in Sacramento at a Public Summit on Data and Information including:

Kish Rajan, Director, Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development

Zac Bookman - Co-founder and CEO, OpenGov

Jim Ewert – General Counsel, California Newspaper Publishers Association

Ashley Trim – Assistant Director, Davenport Institute

Brian Purchia -- Purchia Communications LLC & Former New Media Director for Gavin Newsom.

Lea Deesing -- Chief Innovation Officer at City of Riverside

Lenny Mendonca -- McKinsey Director Emeritus and co-Chair of CA Fwd

Jay Costa - Program Director, MapLight

Technology-enhanced transparency is a key to restoring trust in government and for creating accountability for results. Be assured that California Forward will continue its work in this area because Californians deserve a government they can trust. 

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