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Yaroslavsky proposes electronic filing of political donations

PoliticsElectionsZev YaroslavskyLocal GovernmentGloria MolinaDon KnabeMark Ridley-Thomas
Zev Yaroslavsky's proposal follows a Times report showing L.A. County lags behind other local governments
L.A. County continues to require paper listings of campaign contributors
"I hope it's ready for November,'' says Sheila Kuehl, a candidate for L.A. County supervisor

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky on Tuesday proposed new campaign-reporting regulations that would require donor reports to be filed electronically, a move that would make it quicker and easier for the public to see who is financially backing candidates.

The proposal, which is expected to be voted on by the five-member county board next week, follows a Times report Monday showing that L.A. County government lags behind other large local governments in requiring timely disclosure of the sources of campaign cash. The county continues to require paper listings of campaign contributors, documents that can run hundreds of pages.

Getting the reports online often requires county workers to hand-enter detailed information into computers, a process that often delays the release of the reports for weeks. The city of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orange County and several other local jurisdictions require campaign funding reports to be filed digitally and have procedures that ensure the information is online within hours or, at most, a day or two.

Even when L.A. County candidates file an extra copy of their reports electronically, county workers check the information against the official paper versions for accuracy before posting the reports on the county's website. That can delay release of the information for days or weeks, The Times found.

The bottleneck in disclosing campaign funding information has become an issue in contests for two open seats on the county board. Several candidates have called for reforms to make the system more timely and transparent. And at least one other board member, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, has said he supports adoption of a mandatory electronic filing requirement.

Yaroslavsky said current procedures increase staff costs and don't "facilitate optimal and immediate viewing of campaign information by the public."

Modernizing filing requirements "kind of fell through the cracks" because there have been so few competitive county elections in recent decades, he said. That is changing with newly effective term limits, which are forcing Yaroslavsky and Supervisor Gloria Molina to step down this year. Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Don Knabe will be replaced in 2016.

"Now we have a bunch of competitive elections," Yaroslavsky said. "It's been raised as an issue, and rightly so."

Most professional campaign treasurers already are prepared to file electronic reports, he said. Candidates who raise less than $1,000 would not be required to file electronically under state law.

"This should not be a problem for anybody, and it does give instantaneous accessibility and transparency to the public," Yaroslavsky said.

The primary elections for two new supervisors, a new sheriff and a new assessor are June 3. If approved, the reporting requirement changes would be in place in time for the November runoff elections.

County Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan said his office would help candidates transition to electronic filing if the proposed changes are approved.

Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who serves on the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, called the move "a step in the right direction." But she said even electronic reporting systems can have issues and suffer computer glitches.

Candidates welcomed the news. All of the leading candidates to succeed Yaroslavsky and Molina have said they favor mandatory electronic filing.

"I hope it's ready for November,'' said Sheila Kuehl, one of the presumed front-runners in the race to replace Yaroslavsky.

Her top rival, Bobby Shriver, posted his contributors on his campaign website, anticipating delays with the county system. "I think it's fantastic,'' he said. "It should be done right away."

John Duran, a West Hollywood council member and rival of Shriver and Kuehl who filed both paper and electronic campaign reports with the county, said the proposed changes were "an awesome first step in getting us into the 21st century."

Bill Carrick, Shriver's campaign strategist, said the reforms should include fast disclosure of so-called "late contributions." In the 90 days before an election, campaigns are required to report all contributions of $1,000 or more within 24 hours. But under the current county system, candidates and members of the public must drive to the registrar-recorder's office in Norwalk to view the information, or wait, sometimes days, until they are posted on the county site.

abby.sewell@latimes.com

catherine.saillant@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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