PRESS RELEASE: California Secretary of State Denies Request for Campaign Finance and Lobbying Data to Be Made Available for Daily Download

California Secretary of State Denies Request for Campaign Finance and Lobbying Data to Be Made Available for Daily Download

April 25, 2013—MapLight, a nonpartisan research organization that reveals money’s influence on politics, along with Common Cause, sent a letter signed by several media, transparency, and reform groups to California Secretary of State Debra Bowen asking the Secretary of State’s office to “upload a copy of the Cal-Access [campaign finance] database [daily] to a publicly accessible website where data can be downloaded as a single file by members of the public and the media.”

The letter to Secretary of State Bowen further states, “We write to request that your office make a simple change that would save costs for the Secretary of State’s office while greatly increasing data transparency in the state of California and public accessibility to important campaign finance and lobbying information.”

Currently, upon request, the Secretary of State’s office creates a CD-ROM of its campaign finance and lobbying database and sends it by mail to interested parties for $5.

Secretary of State Bowen responded to the request with a letter citing Government Code section 84602(d), a provision of the Online Disclosure Act that states:

“The data made available on the Internet shall not contain the street name and building number of persons or entity representatives listed on the electronically filed forms or any bank account numbers required to be disclosed pursuant to this title.”

Bowen further states, “It is not clear to me that creating such a ‘filter’ [to redact the above information] is cost-effective when designing, developing, and deploying it would divert limited information technology resources from other high-priority responsibilities. This cost-benefit analysis would be different if the data was not readily available in another medium, but it is readily available on a CD-ROM.”

“We understand the Secretary of State’s concerns about not publishing sensitive personal and financial information, as required by law. However, this could be solved by simply changing a data field prior to releasing the data, which could be done in a low-cost, automated way. MapLight’s data team would be more than willing to lend technical assistance, if needed,” said Daniel G. Newman, President and Co-Founder of MapLight. “Trying to access and sort the public’s data in its current form from Cal-Access is inefficient and unacceptable. The internet has been part of citizens’ daily lives for more than 15 years and it’s time to post the database on the internet for the public to download. Distributing CD-ROMs is so 1980s.”

"Allowing raw data of campaigns and lobbyists to be made available online should be simple and common sense," said Phillip Ung, Policy Advocate at Common Cause. "Unfortunately, transparency is being held back by a 14-year-old computer system that everyone agrees should be replaced. The need for a new system is obvious. The talent to build this system is available. 21st century voters are demanding our "dial-up" government get plugged into the times and ditch the CD-ROMs."

Signatories of the letter: MapLight, Common Cause, Around The Capitol, California Forward, California Newspaper Publishers Association, Courage Campaign, Global Exchange, Los Angeles Times, Rootstrikers, The Sacramento Bee, Sunlight Foundation, and Senator Leland Yee.

About Common Cause:
Common Cause is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to restoring the core values of American democracy, reinventing an open, honest, and accountable government that works for the public interest, and empowering ordinary people to make their voices heard.  

About MapLight:
MapLight is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that reveals money's influence on politics. If our work has been helpful to you, please consider supporting us.

Media Contact:
Pamela Behrsin
c: 415-299-0898 | e: | t: @imonlyabill

Connect with MapLight on Twitter and Facebook.