Napa County is making it easier to follow the campaign contribution money trail.
It will provide online public access to campaign finance disclosure statements for candidates and ballot measures. People will no longer have to travel to the Election Division or request email copies to find out whom candidates receive money from and how they spend it.
The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday endorsed electronic campaign disclosure statement reporting, with a final vote coming soon. That follows another recent move to post online the economic conflict-of-interest forms for county offices.
“If it increases the accessibility to the public—great,” Board of Supervisors chairman Ryan Gregory said.
Napa County’s Election Division handles the campaign disclosure statements for county elected offices – such as supervisors seats and Sheriff—and county ballot measures. Each local city handles forms for its own elected offices, with most of them already offering or moving toward online service.
Today’s campaign reporting laws date to the state’s Political Reform Act, passed by voters as Proposition 9 in 1974 in the wake of Watergate. One facet of the act tightened disclosure laws so voters would know more about who gives money to candidates.
“Big money unduly influences politics: big money from wealthy individuals and wealthy organizations,” Proposition 9 advocates wrote in the 1974 voters’ guide.
The Political Reform Act sought, among other things, to peel back secrecy on donations.
“The underlying theory behind campaign disclosure is that an informed electorate will vote against the candidate or proposal having financial alliances adverse to the public interest,” the Fair Political Practices Commission says on its website.
Napa County struck a similar tone in its ordinance that adds the 21st-century twist of moving from paper filings to electronic campaign filings.
“The Board of Supervisors finds that public access to campaign disclosure information is a vital and integral component of a fully informed electorate and that transparency in campaign financing is critical in order to maintain public trust and support the political process,” the ordinance said.
State law requires candidates and ballot measure committees raising or spending $2,000 or more to file 460 forms. The forms include contribution and spending totals and identify campaign contributors giving $100 or more.
County Registrar of Voters John Tuteur said the information for county candidates will be online for the March election.
In addition, county candidates will be required to file the 460 forms electronically.
“I have a volunteer treasurer and he’s looking forward to it,” Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said. “He thinks this will be easier.”
For now, people can view various campaign disclosure forms from 2019 and past years. Go to the county Election Division website at https://bit.ly/2STmjIV and choose the public access portal.
Also on Tuesday, the American Canyon City Council endorsed a similar ordinance. It too will post future campaign disclosure statements online and already has some available for past years.
The city of Napa in May passed a law adding the electronic filings of campaign disclosure statements. The semi-annual statements for the first half of the year were due Wednesday and are the first being filed electronically, City Clerk Tiffany Carranza said.
“It will be easily accessible to anybody online,” she said.
Yountville and St. Helena also have various disclosure statements available online. Calistoga plans to make the 460 forms available online next year.
City postings can be found on the city clerk section of city websites. For the city of Napa, the site is https://bit.ly/2OwlFCy and the section is Fair Political Practices Commission reports.