Debt Consolidation

A Not to the Readers of UWSA

Posted on: June 11, 2008
Written by: UWSA Staff
The information provided in this report is as accurate as could be determined from public records. However, political disclosure in California today is a travesty. It is scandalous that in a high-tech state like California, campaign finance records are still only available on paper. In many cases, candidate reports were missing or incomplete. Many reports had become unstapled, with loose pages scattered throughout the files, which had to be reassembled.

Members of the public seeking campaign information must travel to Sacramento in order to review public records. Copies of reports may be ordered over the phone, but don't arrive for several weeks and can end up costing a significant amount of money. The data in the reports themselves is often inaccurate or misreported. It is impossible to tell whether these errors are intentional, or honest mistakes made by confused campaign treasurers. Lack of enforcement and oversight are significant contributing factors to inaccurate disclosure. The disclosure requirements remain intimidating and confusing, despite repeated attempts by the Fair Political Practices Commission to improve the disclosure forms.

California needs a wholesale re-evaluation of our political disclosure process. Electronic filing of campaign finance and lobbying documents is the first step in creating an accurate and publicly-accessible computerized campaign finance data base. In addition, the disclosure requirements themselves need to be re-examined.

A researcher cannot simply look at the summary pages of a candidate's report and assume those numbers accurately reflect the total of a candidate's contributions, for several reasons:

Loans received in previous years that remain outstanding continue to be reported in the contributions summary, and unless deducted from summary numbers, can lead to gross errors in the total amount of money candidates appear to have raised in the current year.
Intra-candidate transfers
Many candidates have more than one campaign committee, and there is no uniformity in how money transferred between such committees is reported. Some candidates report intra-candidate transfers as contributions, which results in these transfers being counted among their total contributions. Other candidates report these transfers as a "miscellaneous increase to cash", which is not reflected in the contribution summary. In our research, we accounted for intra-candidate transfers to the best of our ability.
1993 fundraising
Many candidates "rolled" their 1993 contributions into their 1994 reports, which can result in double-counting 1993 receipts. In such cases, we subtracted the 1993 contributions from the 1994 total.
Math Errors.
Many candidates make simple mathematical errors in their summary pages, or carry over the wrong number from one report to the next. These errors were corrected to the best of our ability.
In conducting the research for this study, we did our best to account for these factors, and believe that we have arrived at the most accurate numbers possible given the pitfalls of the current disclosure process. But the fact remains that it should not require years of training or a degree in accounting in order to fill out or examine a disclosure report. Candidates should be able to complete, and the public should be able to analyze campaign finance reports with confidence in their ability to do so in an accurate manner. The author and Common Cause support efforts by the Secretary of State and the Legislature to improve the disclosure process, and will assist in any way possible to create a process that serves the public's right to understand campaign financing practices in California.

This report would not have been possible without the assistance of Capitol Weekly and Statenet. The author and Common Cause greatly appreciate the publications and databases made available through these organizations, as well as their commitment to public disclosure of campaign finance data. We are also thankful to the Secretary of State's Political Reform Division, and particularly appreciate the assistance provided by the front desk staff.