The Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill by Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) that would arm voters with lists of the largest contributors for and against California ballot propositions.
Senate Bill 844 would increase transparency by creating official online lists of the top 10 contributors for or against each proposition on every California ballot.
“This is a simple approach that can be implemented to fulfill the public’s right to know who is funding or opposing each ballot measure,” Senator Pavley said.
California began posting online financial information for propositions campaigns in 2000, a major step toward greater transparency. However, finding out the top contributors for or against a proposition requires gathering and re-formatting the data from multiple reports from each of the various committees connected to a proposition. This difficult and time-consuming endeavor makes the information inaccessible to many voters.
For example, compiling a complete list of contributions for and against Proposition 30 – the 2012 initiative to fund schools and close the state deficit – requires 460 mouse clicks, according to an analysis by the nonprofit research organization, MapLight. Third parties such as MapLight have created more user-friendly lists on their own websites, but these websites do not bear an official government seal.
SB 844 instructs the California Secretary of State to convert existing data into lists of top donors that can be easily accessed by all voters. The bill was developed in collaboration with the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving the election process.
“Providing voters with convenient and timely access to top donor lists will give voters exactly the kind of straightforward information they need and, according to repeated public opinion polls, very much want,” said Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California Voter Foundation.
SB 844 is one of several measures introduced in the past year to expand voter awareness of proposition donors. It complements Senate Bill 27 by Senator Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), which would close a loophole that allows contributors to mask the source of their donations by funneling them through nonprofit organizations. SB 27 fell one vote short of passage in a vote on the Senate Floor on Monday.
Pavley represents about half of the Santa Clarita Valley in the state Senate.