Capital Public Radio

Ben Bradford
Thursday, October 13, 2016 | Sacramento, CA

Donors have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into California races with weeks still to go before the November election. The state collects a wealth of data about who is spending and where, but that information can be difficult to track.

The information is searchable on a state-run website called Cal-Access, but Gavin Baker of open government group California Common Cause says it’s unreliable.

“It’s an old system; they keep it held together with bubble gum and twine,” Baker says. “It’s prone to crashing, particularly on filing deadlines, which is exactly when everyone is dong the paperwork and when all the journalists and watchdogs and other campaigns want to find out what have people been getting.”

The code underlying Cal-Access hasn’t changed since the site first launched in 2000.

It’s not just transparency advocates. Business groups and labor unions, big spenders in California elections, are fed up with filing their information to the archaic site.

The groups joined forces on legislation—which Governor Jerry Brown approved last month—that requires a more modern replacement for Cal-Access starting in 2020.

In the meantime, the California Secretary of State’s office has increasingly relied on political data tracking organization MapLight to help with public searches of filing data, which can be difficult through the state website.

Thursday, the two launched web pages for each proposition on the ballot. Each page lists totals spent for and against a measure, as well as the top 10 contributions made to each side.