CONTACT: Kim Alexander, (916) 325-2120,


Web site aims to promote Internet access to campaign finance data

Today the California Voter Foundation launched „Digital Sunlightš, a new Web site designed to foster efforts underway in California and across the country to improve public access to political disclosure records.

„New technologies offer new opportunities to provide the public with immediate, convenient and comprehensive online access to campaign contributions and expenditures,š said Kim Alexander, Executive Director of the California Voter Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Sacramento. „Improving access to political disclosure records will help voters make more informed choices and allow the public to do a better job of holding politicians accountable between elections.š

While most jurisdictions already require public disclosure of campaign finance data, these records are often only available to the public in a paper format at the filing agency‚s office. Several states, local governments and the Federal Elections Commission have begun to explore electronic filing of political disclosure records, which would result in immediate computerization of, and online access to campaign finance data. (Other alternatives, such as scanning and data-entry, are regarded by many experts as too costly, labor-intensive, and prone to error.)

„There is a movement underway across the country to improve public access to political disclosure data through electronic filing,š Alexander observed. „Our new Web site can help foster that movement by providing disclosure reform advocates with background information and resources to aid their efforts,š she added, noting that journalists, citizens and election agency officials will also benefit from the site‚s resources.

Material available through „Digital Sunlightš includes:

ū News articles and editorials;
ū Links to Web sites offering online disclosure data;
ū Contact information for disclosure experts across the country;
ū The Center for Responsive Politics‚ „Plugging in the Publicš report;
ū The California Electronic Filing Advisory Panel‚s report to the State Legislature;
ū Updates on the status of legislation in California.

The California Voter Foundation (CVF) has been a leading force behind efforts to provide Internet access to campaign finance data. In 1995, CVF partnered with Digital Equipment Corporation to produce the San Francisco Online Voter Guide, which featured the first online, public database of campaign contributions and expenditures ever available prior to an election. „When it comes to making an informed choice, there in no piece of information more valuable to a voter than knowing who‚s putting their money behind a candidate or measure,š Alexander said.

Last year, CVF launched „Late Contribution Watchš, a daily, online report of last-minute campaign contributions made in state races. The project earned the organization the 1997 James Madison Freedom of Information Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California Chapter, and has received widespread critical acclaim, most recently in the May 1997 edition of Wired Magazine.

Two weeks ago, California Secretary of State Bill Jones announced plans to adopt CVF‚s late-money online tracking effort for the 1998 election, along with a voluntary electronic filing program. Meanwhile, the California Legislature is considering two bills this year -- AB 63/Cunneen, and SB 49/Karnette -- to mandate electronic filing by the 1999-2000 election.

„We are starting to see plans for electronic filing programs crop up all over the country. The progress made so far is very encouraging,š said Bob Stern, co-director of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, which is monitoring electronic filing efforts. „Maryland recently passed electronic filing legislation, and several other states, including Hawaii, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Washington, already have systems up and running. If the California Legislature succeeds in passing electronic filing legislation this year, California will be among the vanguard of the electronic filing movement,š Stern added.

Initial development of the Digital Sunlight Web site was made possible through a grant from the Joyce Foundation of Chicago, which has supported numerous disclosure reform projects across the country. CVF hopes to raise additional funds to support the continued development and maintenance of the site.

Kim Alexander will be available in CVF‚s Sacramento office on Thursday, April 24 and Friday, April 25 for media interviews and live demonstrations of the Digital Sunlight Web site.