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Politicians may open books on Net

A bill that would make campaign finance information of California's legislators available on the Internet is speeding through the state government.

Netizens may finally have access to the campaign finance information of California's state legislators under a bill passed in the state Assembly by a 65-4 vote.

If passed by the state Senate, bill SB 108 would require state candidates in 1998 to file their campaign statements with the Secretary of State's office. They would then be posted on the Internet.

Campaign finance reports have traditionally been filed on paper and have been difficult to retrieve. The bill is another example of legislation that makes more government information accessible to the public, highlighting the role of the Internet in the way in which information can be made available. Many political observers expect the bill to become law by next year.

Republican Assembly member Bruce McPherson, a coauthor of the bill with Independent state Senator Quentin Kopp, said the legislation moves the process from the "Stone Age to the Information Age."

The bill, which is now on its way to the Senate Elections Committee for a vote scheduled today, would also require candidates who have raised or spent at least $50,000 on their campaigns to file their statements in electronic form.

Kim Alexander, executive director California Voter Foundation, said if the bill passes, "all state political campaign reports including political committees, major donors, and lobbying groups will have to disclose their records electronically."

The foundation created the first online campaign finance database for the 1995 election in San Francisco last year, Alexander said. "We had a phenomenal response with 40,000 documents retrieved in a five-month period, and more than 39 percent were for campaign finance data." Biographies, a local ballot pamphlet, and other committee information was also available through its voter education Web site.

"Those statistics tell us that voters want to know where candidates are getting their money from," she added. "Some capitol staffers want to restrict access, and like the fact that they have exclusive access to these documents."