10:00 PM PST on Friday, January 28, 2011

By JIM MILLER
Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO – Someday, a Hemet resident sitting at a home computer will be able to enter the name of a local company and get a list of every political donation the business has made — not just to local candidates but to others around the state.

Such a statewide system is still a few years and at least several million dollars away. But it’s the cornerstone of efforts, which began Friday, to bring California’s 37-year-old political reform law into the modern era.

The Fair Political Practices Commission acted on a handful of recommendations put forward by a task force that spent several months studying ways to improve transparency and people’s access to campaign information.

Among the suggestions are better regulating, but not banning, the political “robocalls” that flood people’s homes during election season.

The changes approved Friday are modest. Chief among them is requiring more information about who is really paying for the slate mailers that come with such wholesome-sounding names as “Republicans for Flag and Country.”

“This isn’t exactly headline-grabbing stuff,” said Dan Schnur, chairman of the Fair Political Practices Commission.

“But for people who want information about who’s paying for political campaigns, and for those citizens who want to get involved in the political process, what the task force has done has made it much easier to get that information and get involved.”

Other changes recommended by the task force include changing contribution and expenditure disclosures, more disclaimers in campaign ads, and a statewide electronic filing system that would include campaign committees for governor to cemetery districts.

Unlike the revised rules approved Friday, the other task force recommendations will require lawmakers’ cooperation.

Legislative leaders have been receptive to the task force’s proposals, Schnur said. Two lawmakers have taken the lead on crafting legislation, Assembly members Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego.

Huffman aide Andi Liebenbaum said work has only just begun on crafting a possible omnibus bill to update the Political Reform Act. The state’s budget troubles could limit the scope of any legislation, she said.

But, she said, “I am confident as I can be that there will be an end product.”

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