(TNS) --The staff of the state Fair Political Practices Commission deserves credit for backing away from a misguided proposal to limit availability of key records.
Now it should go further and ensure that the documents are permanently preserved online in a format that members of the public can easily analyze. The FPPC needs to do everything possible for people to connect the dots between politics and money.
It's appalling that more than 20 years into the Internet age, candidates and ballot measure campaigns across the state continue to file at least some -- and in many cases all -- of their disclosure documents on paper, and that the data from them is not available in searchable format.
The current disclosure system traces back to an initiative passed by voters in 1974, the decade before personal computers. Under the 41-year-old law, known as the Political Reform Act, state candidates file contribution statements with the Secretary of State's Office and financial conflict of interest declarations with the FPPC.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who took office this year, deserves credit for improving his end of it. His office provides searchable data, although until this year the system was difficult to navigate.
At the FPPC, however, documents are still filed on paper, just as they often are at the local level for offices such as city council, school board or county supervisor.
The FPPC takes the documents it receives and posts copies online, but the data cannot be searched or analyzed.
The solution is simple: We should have one centralized electronic repository for all the data, state and local. Candidates, donors and campaign organizations should be required to provide the information electronically so it can be posted and easily analyzed.
Statewide electronic filing would enable cost-effective permanent storage, instead of the hodgepodge of labor-intensive local systems throughout California.
To its credit, the FPPC is trying to upgrade its systems. But at the same time its staff proposed rules setting the online life of the data at seven years. There's no rational reason for that limit.
Today's technology allows for inexpensive permanent storage of that information. Moreover, candidates often hold office for more than seven years.
Voters deserve a historical perspective on who has been influencing policymakers. Fortunately, the FPPC staff dropped the plan as the agency began receiving questions from us and others, but it's not enough.
The organization created by voters to ensure political transparency should make sure it really happens.
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