Oakland City Council Approves Campaign Sunlight Ordinance

Update: The Oakland City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to require all local candidates and committees to file their campaign finance reports online. The ordinance goes into effect immediately.

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Oakland City Council will vote on an ordinance to make city elections more transparent. (Justin Garland/Flickr)

The bill’s sponsor, Councilwoman Libby Schaff, says it will increase political transparency and save the city money. City Attorney Barbara Parker and City Clerk Latonda Simmons are also sponsoring the ordinance.

A public database of campaign finance reports will allow voters, the media and watchdogs to more easily know who is financing campaigns and provide a deterrent for pay-to-play politics, Schaff said. Files will be searchable and downloadable.

“The public will have much easier access to the information in those campaign reports, Schaff said. “It will be easy to search for donors, and it will be easy to create tools that analyze the information in the reports. That has never existed before in Oakland.”

In California, 15 other cities offer electronic filing of campaign finance reports, including San Francisco and San Jose, which both require it.

In August 2012, the Oakland City Council voted to spend $102,000 on an online campaign finance system from the Mariposa-based company, NetFiles. The Council did not require candidates to use the system, and as a result, few filed their campaign finance reports electronically.

The system ended up creating more work for the city clerk’s office, as well. For each candidate who chose to turn in paper reports, a city clerk staff member had to scan them and post them to NetFiles. Because the scanned files were PDFs, they were not searchable.

The new ordinance would simply require that all candidates and committees file their reports on NetFiles. Paper reports would no longer be accepted, and later filers would face a penalty fee.

Schaff said the electronic filing system has the added benefit of increasing political participation since candidates would be able to file at any time from any place.

“It will make the political process more accessible for people who have 9-5 jobs and can’t drive down to City Hall,” Schaff said.

The city clerk’s office, which administers elections, would hold trainings every filing period to ensure everyone knows how to use the system, Schaff said. Furthermore, candidates would be required to provide information about nearby free, public computers so that even citizens without the Internet at home could access the reports.

If the legislation passes, it will go into effect immediately, though Oakland’s next filing period for campaign finance reports is not for another six months.

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Rachael Bale

Rachael Bale is researcher for The Center for Investigative Reporting and occasional contributor to KQED News and The California Report. A California native, she has a bachelor's degree in political science from Reed College and a master's degree in journalism from American University.

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