At its May 13 meeting, the FPPC adopted a regulation that formally stated its goal of posting on its Web site several categories of reports and letters informing the public of actions by the agency that monitors public officials’ potential conflicts of interest and campaign financing.
“Part of it is us looking inward and holding ourselves to a higher degree of accountability,” said FPPC Executive Director Roman Porter.
The commission voted 3-1 May 13 to pass a regulation that the FPC will expand information on its Web site to include staff advice letters, enforcement closure letters and behested payment letters posted with the commission by thousands of public officials.
The commission was without its full contingent of five members as Chairman Ross Johnson recently stepped down, citing health reasons. The commission awaits the appointment of a new chairperson by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Commissioner Lynn Montgomery voted against the regulation.
In April, the FPPC began posting a fraction of the Statements of Economic Interest (Form 700) that tens of thousands of public officials in California have filed. The state-mandated forms include information on potential conflicts of interest such as an official’s income, property holdings and investments.
The FPPC has posted more than 400 Form 700s for the state’s constitutionally elected officers (including the governor), state legislators and county supervisors. As the Web transparency process proceeds, Porter said, the FPPC would add postings for others who file Form 700 annually, including city elected officials, board members on agencies that cross municipal lines and agency executives in decision-making positions.
The Form 700s posted in April have been redacted to conceal personal information such as home addresses and telephone numbers. “We have to balance the public’s right to know vs. an individual’s right to personal privacy.”
It is a labor-intensive process to copy documents filed with the FPPC and post PDF files online. Porter said within the next several years the FPPC would streamline the process by piloting a way for officials to fill out the form online, where it would reside for the public to see.
FPPC regulations have required documents be made available to members of the public during regular business hours, but this puts at a disadvantage people who live far from the commission’s office in Sacramento.
“Our effort has been looking at how, in this day and age, the public accesses information and what tools we have to meet the needs of the people of California,” said Porter.
Over the years, the FPPC has been criticized by the media and good government groups to put more information online and release more information about ongoing investigations.
The FPPC was established by the Political Reform Act, a proposition passed by California voters in 1974. Besides monitoring public officials’ conflicts of interest, it also regulates campaign financing and lobbyist registration and reporting.
The commissioners are appointed – two by the governor, and one each by the state’s attorney general, controller and secretary of state. The commission is empowered by laws and regulations to issue fines and civil penalties to public officials. It meets monthly, issuing fines for violations.
Lance Howland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org