Capping nearly three years of political wrangling, California will join a growing number of states to put campaign finance reports online.
Gov. Pete Wilson this weekend signed a "digital sunlight" bill, SB 49. The legislation, introduced by state Sen. Betty Karnette (D-Long Beach), requires candidates and other campaigners to report finances online and by June 1, 2000, if their total contributions exceed $100,000 in primary elections and $50,000 in general elections. The legislation requires that the digital files duplicate paper filings.
"SB 49 dramatically improves the public's ability to scrutinize and appreciate the role money plays in California politics," said Kim Alexander, executive director of the California Voter Foundation, which has spearheaded efforts to get the bill signed.
Secretary of State Bill Jones called the law "the most significant campaign finance reform of the past 25 years."
Earlier this year, the California legislature passed SB 49 by a 31-2 vote in the Senate and 73-3 in the Assembly. But winning the lawmakers' support has not been a snap.
In August 1996, the state Senate's election committee killed a bill that would have required candidates to file their political campaign records on the Net. This year, some lawmakers threatened to derail the bill on privacy grounds; those efforts were unsuccessful.
Often prodded by campaign finance reform groups, lawmakers increasingly are agreeing to put the finance reports online.
"Thirteen state legislatures acted this year to move their state's political disclosure records into the digital sunlight," according to a report issued Friday by the California Voter Foundation. "In addition, 17 other states have mandatory or voluntary electronic filing and online disclosure systems in operation or in the works."
Those 13 states are California, North Carolina, New York, Maryland, Illinois, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Oklahoma, Indiana, New Jersey, and Minnesota. The 17 that already have adopted online disclosure are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and West Virginia.
Cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Seattle also have adopted online filing programs, and the Federal Elections Commission has begun accepting online digital filings.
"You can read French newspapers, check out the CIA, and get copies of petitions for California initiatives from your home computer," said Assemblywoman Debra Bowen (D-Torrance). "Now, finally, after three years of political wrangling, you can also find out who is giving what and how much to California lawmakers just by flipping on your home computer."
Reporter Courtney Macavinta contributed to this report.