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Rule Change Would Hide Politicians Disclosures

SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS
http://www.mercurynews.com/news/ci_29071725/rule-change-would-hide-politicians--disclosures

The state's political watchdog agency is mulling a rules change that would mean dropping elected officials economic disclosures and behested payments reports from its website after seven years – effectively removing them from public view.

And in a state where lots of people often hold one or more public offices for way longer than seven years, that seems like a bad idea.

The proposed rule change would require that Form 700 Statement of Economic Interests disclosures and records of behested payments – charitable contributions directed by a public official to a charity of their choice – be taken off the Fair Political Practices Commission s website after seven years.

Keep in mind that even in this age of term limits, a person can serve up to 12 years in the Legislature and up to eight years in a particular statewide constitutional office – though many politicians play musical chairs through several such posts for careers spanning decades. Many officeholders would still be in office when their earlier disclosures start disappearing, these disclosures are crucial tools for exposing the influence of deep-pocketed donors and possible conflicts of interests.

A rule like this would ve made it much harder for me and my colleague, Thomas Peele, to fully report our October 2014 story about Gov. Jerry Brown s extensive business dealings, or my May 2015 story about the many millions Brown has directed in behested payments as California s attorney general and governor.

The FPPC had opposed a bill this year to reduce transparency around behested payments by allowing funds solicited from government programs to go unreported, but the Brown signed the bill into law last month, Consumer Watchdog executive director Carmen Balber noted in a Capitol Watchdog article Wednesday.

A sole contribution solicited in 2008 may not reflect direct influence over a vote or action in 2015, but it can certainly help paint a trend and pattern over time of a politician s relationships and who they rely on for support, Balber wrote.

Once upon a time, too much data might have felt like dead wood, too voluminous to be used in any meaningful way. Today, technology is giving us new and innovative ways to manipulate government and campaign data every day, she continued. We can do more this year with data provided in 2000 than we could for the previous 15 years. It s the worst time to be taking information out of public view.

FPPC staff will hold an interested persons meeting on this proposed rule change at 2 p.m. next Thursday, Nov. 12 at the commission s offices on the 8th floor of 428 J St. in Sacramento. People also can take part in this meeting by teleconference, by calling 877-411-9748 and using access code 723284. Or, Californians can make their opinions known in writing, addressed to Commission Counsel Val Joyce at vjoyce@fppc.ca.gov, or via snail mail at 428 J St., 8th floor, Sacramento, CA 95814.