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Online Disclosure Act Under the California Political Reform Act

Public access to campaign and lobbying disclosure information is a vital and integral component of a fully informed electorate

By Chris Micheli, February 7, 2022 6:26 am

The Political Reform Act, contained in Title 9 of the Government Code, includes Chapter 4.6, which is titled the “Online Disclosure Act of 1997.” Title 4.6 was added by Chapter 866 in 1997 and contains Sections 84600 – 84616. Section 84600 provides that Chapter 4.6 may be cited as the Online Disclosure Act. Section 84601 contains the following four legislative findings and declarations:

  • The people of California enacted one of the nation’s most comprehensive campaign and lobbying financial disclosure laws when they voted for Proposition 9, the Political Reform Act of 1974, an initiative statute.
  • Public access to campaign and lobbying disclosure information is a vital and integral component of a fully informed electorate.
  • Advances in technology have made it necessary for the State of California to develop a new, data-driven online filing and disclosure system that provides public disclosure of campaign finance and lobbying information in a user-friendly, easily understandable format.
  • Members of the public, including voters, journalists, and researchers, should be able to access campaign finance and lobbying information in a robust and flexible manner, including through searches and visual displays such as graphs and maps.

Section 84602 requires the Secretary to do all of the following, in consultation with the FPPC:

  • Develop online and electronic filing processes for use by persons and entities that are required to file statements and reports with the Secretary of State’s office.
  • Accept test files from software vendors and others wishing to file reports electronically.
  • Develop a system that provides for the online or electronic transfer of the data using telecommunications technology that ensures the integrity of the data transmitted and that creates safeguards against efforts to tamper with or subvert the data.
  • Make all the data filed available on the internet in an easily understood format that provides the greatest public access.
  • Develop a procedure for filers to comply with the requirement that they sign under penalty of perjury.
  • Maintain all filed data online for 10 years after the date it is filed, and then archive the information in a secure format.
  • Provide assistance to those seeking public access to the information.
  • Implement sufficient technology to seek to prevent unauthorized alteration or manipulation of the data.
  • Provide the FPPC with necessary information to enable it to assist agencies, public officials, and others with the compliance with, and administration of, this title.

In addition, the Secretary of State is required do all of the following with respect to developing the online filing and disclosure system and record format:

  • Consult with the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting, the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments, the Commission, users, filers, and other stakeholders, as appropriate, about functions of the online filing and disclosure system.
  • In consultation with the FPPC, hold at least one public hearing to receive input about developing the online filing and disclosure system and record format.
  • Submit a report to the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting and the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments that includes a plan for the online filing and disclosure system, describes how members of the public will be able to query and retrieve data from the system, and includes a plan for integrating statements as specified.

The Secretary of State may accept any funds, services, equipment, or grants to further this subdivision, provided that the Secretary of State must notify the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting and the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments upon accepting any amount valued at $100,000 or more.

Section 84602.1 requires the Secretary of State to fully implement this chapter, including completing online lobbying registration forms so that all forms can be filed online as specified in existing law. In addition, the Secretary of State is required to report to the Legislature on these three items:

  • The implementation and development of the online and electronic filing and disclosure requirements of this chapter.
  • Whether and to what extent any means or method has been deployed that allows filers to submit required filings free of charge.
  • What resources are necessary to complete efforts to allow filers to submit required filings free of charge, when completion is expected, and an explanation of why the original full allocation of requested funding did not provide the statutorily required free filing system.

Finally, additional reports to the Legislature are due on July 1, and December 1, of each year, until a means or method has been deployed that allows all filers who are required to file reports online or electronically to file those reports free of charge.

Section 84602.3 requires the Secretary of State to conspicuously post on the Secretary of State’s internet website hyperlinks to the internet website of any local government agency that contains publicly-disclosed campaign finance information.

Section 84602.5 requires the Secretary of State to disclose online an index of the identification numbers of every person, entity, or committee that is obligated to make a disclosure. This index must be updated monthly.

Section 84603 requires the Secretary of State, once all state-mandated development, procurement, and oversight requirements have been met, to make public their availability to accept reports online or electronically.

Section 84605 requires the following persons or entities to file online or electronically with the Secretary of State:

  • Any candidate, including superior court, appellate court, and Supreme Court candidates and officeholders, committee, or other persons who are required to file statements, reports, or other documents in connection with a state elective office or state measure, provided that the total cumulative reportable amounts of contributions received, expenditures made, loans made, or loans received is $25,000 or more.
  • Any general purpose committees including the general purpose committees of political parties, and small contributor committees that cumulatively receive contributions or make expenditures totaling $25,000 or more to support or oppose candidates for any elective state office or state measure.
  • Any slate mailer organization with cumulative reportable payments received or made for the purposes of producing slate mailers of $25,000 or more.
  • Any lobbyist, lobbying firm, lobbyist employer, or other persons required to file statements, reports, or other documents, provided that the total amount of any category of reportable payments, expenses, contributions, gifts, or other items is $2,500 or more in a calendar quarter.

In addition, pursuant to Section 84605, the Secretary of State must disclose on the Internet any late contribution or late independent expenditure report not covered by any other provision of law. Persons filing online or electronically are also required to continue to file required disclosure statements and reports in paper format.

The Secretary of State is required to maintain at all times a secured, official version of all original online and electronically filed statements and reports required by this chapter. Upon determination by the Secretary of State that the system is operating securely and effectively, this online or electronic version is the official version for audit and other legal purposes.

Section 84606 specifies that the date that a filer transmits an online or electronic report is the date the filed report is received by the Secretary of State. Section 84607 provides that no employee or official of a state or local government agency can utilize, for political or campaign purposes, public facilities or resources to retrieve or maintain any of the data produced by the requirements of this chapter.

Section 84612 states that, if the Secretary of State rejects a filing made under this chapter, the Secretary of State is required to immediately notify the filer, by email, of the reason or reasons for rejection using plain, straightforward language, avoiding technical terms as much as possible, and using a coherent and easily readable style.

Section 84616 establishes the Political Disclosure, Accountability, Transparency, and Access Fund in the State Treasury. One-half of the moneys collected must be deposited in the Political Disclosure, Accountability, Transparency, and Access Fund.

Moneys deposited in the Political Disclosure, Accountability, Transparency, and Access Fund are subject to appropriation by the Legislature and are required to be expended for the maintenance, repair, and improvement of the online or electronic disclosure program implemented by the Secretary of State.

Section 84615 authorizes a local government agency to require an elected officer, candidate, committee, or other person required to file statements, reports, or other documents, except an elected officer, candidate, committee, or other person who receives contributions totaling less than $2,000, and makes expenditures totaling less than $2,000 in a calendar year, to file those statements, reports, or other documents online or electronically with a local filing officer.

Section 84616 provides that, within 72 hours of each applicable filing deadline, a local government agency is required to post on its internet website a copy of any statement, report, or other document required that is filed with that agency in paper format.

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