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Sacramento County, Calif., Requires Online Transparency of Local Campaign Donations

After years of promising to put campaign finance reports online, Sacramento County started a trial program in March 2015, but will go full force with the plan starting in August.

by Brad Branan, The Sacramento Bee / February 24, 2016

(TNS) -- Sacramento County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to require local candidates to file campaign disclosures online, a move that should make it easier for the public to track spending in political races.

County staff members will draft a proposal requiring online disclosure starting Aug. 1. The Board of Supervisors is expected to formalize that requirement next month. It would apply to candidates for county offices, special districts and some school districts.

Many counties and cities already provide the ability to search online for contributions made to political candidates and how the candidates spend the money. The company hired by Sacramento County to post the information, NetFile, provides the service to 56 counties and cities in California.

“We’re not out there on the cutting edge for this,” said Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli, urging supervisors to vote for the online requirement.

After years of promising to put campaign finance reports online, Sacramento County started a trial program in March 2015, making it optional for candidates. A little more than half of the campaigns filed online reports during the trial period.

Registrar of Voters Jill LaVine noted that online use increased over time. She said some users stuck to paper reports because they were still required, even for those who filed online.

When online reporting becomes mandatory, filers will not have to provide paper reports.

LaVine said users have found the online system easy to use and that she considered the trial program a success.

Supervisors asked LaVine to come up with a way for candidates or their representatives to submit actual signatures, so the county doesn’t solely rely on electronic signatures. They also wanted assurances that the website would be secure, so hackers could not alter the reports.

LaVine said she and county information technology officials found the system secure, and said it met state requirements for security.

Under the current system, the public has little ability to remotely access campaign finance records for candidates and committees in Sacramento County. In many cases, people who want to view records must go to the Sacramento County elections office in south Sacramento and ask staffers to pull records.

The move toward electronic reports comes as the elections office faces questions about its performance. Some city clerks in Sacramento County complained about office errors in the 2014 elections, leading the county to commission an outside review.

The county recently received a draft copy of the report from the Texas-based Election Center. The county denied a request for the report by The Sacramento Bee, saying releasing it would “inhibit the free, frank and candid exchange of ideas.”

“The public’s interest in such discourse outweighs the public’s interest in disclosure,” said county spokeswoman Chris Andis. She said the county will make the report public when it’s completed.

©2016 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.