The California Senate on April 28 passed, on a bipartisan 38-0 vote, a bill that would allow government agencies responsible for receiving  candidates’ and officials’ Form 700 statements of economic interests (SEIs) to allow their being filed electronically.  SB 1204 by Senator Jeff Denham (R-Modesto) would leave in place the current requirement that the information be available to citizens upon request in the current paper format as well.

Lest there be any raised expectations, however, the bill serves the convenience of the filing officials, not that of the public seeking to check the information.  The staff consultant for the Senate policy committee that first approved the bill had this to say in his analysis:

This bill makes various legislative findings and declarations regarding the electronic filing  of SEIs, including the following . . .

(g) Electronic filing can be a safe, secure, and efficient method of completing, filing, and retaining Form 700s for state and local public officials and at the same time grant viewing capabilities by the general public at the location of the filing officer, public kiosk areas, and local libraries with the ability to print a copy for statutory fee.

Finding . . . (g) above refers to granting viewing capabilities by the public at, among other places, public kiosk areas and local libraries even though this bill does not require  or otherwise address online access to the electronically filed SEIs.  The author and committee may wish to consider whether these two findings should be deleted or  otherwise amended accordingly.

The bill was then stripped of the references to the convenience of the public.  Under general provisions of the California Public Records Act, a local and/or statewide watchdog could still probably request and obtain digital copies of those Form 711s that had been filed electronically, and could post them on the Internet.  But the fact that one would have to go to that much trouble to make anti-corruption checks easy for the citizenry says something about lawmakers’ zest for such transparency.  And of course no one should be surprised if the creation of such a watchdog site deterred officials from filing electronically, which SB 1204 leaves a strictly voluntary option.