Saturday, March 2, 2013

Oakland Council to Vote on Improving Political Transparency

By Robert Gammon
Sat, Mar 2, 2013 at 7:11 AM

The Oakland City Council is slated to vote Tuesday on a new law that would improve transparency during political campaigns and save the city money. The ordinance, co-sponsored by Councilwoman Libby Schaaf, City Attorney Barbara Parker, and City Clerk Latonda Simmons, would require all political candidates and committees to file their campaign finance reports electronically so that voters can go online to see who is financing political campaigns.

As the Express reported last August, the council had voted earlier last year to pay $102,000 to a private vendor, NetFile, to provide an online campaign finance reporting system to the city. But the council failed to make the system mandatory for political candidates and committees. As a result, most of them did not file their campaign finance reports electronically during the November 2012 election, thereby raising questions as to whether the $102,000 was well spent.

Libby Schaaf
  • Libby Schaaf
The non-mandatory system also ended up costing the city money, because it created more work for the City Clerk’s Office, forcing staffers to scan the paper reports and then post them online. And because the scanned reports were PDF files, they were not searchable, thus making it harder for voters to see who was financing multiple campaigns.

The proposed law also will make it easier to investigate pay-to-pay politics. Mandatory electronic filing means that campaign finance information can be downloaded into spreadsheets so that it can be compared to other database information — such as a list of government contractors.

“This ordinance will improve public access to information, modernize local government, and increase efficiency, saving valuable taxpayer dollars,” Councilwoman Libby Schaaf said in a statement. “The new format will make political contributions easy to search and analyze for the first time. This ordinance provides the public with the unfettered access to information that they deserve. It also frees up city staff from the task of filing these paper documents, so they can spend their valuable, taxpayer-funded time focused on other essential services.”

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