California’s political ethics watchdog has shelved plans to discuss a controversial proposal that would make it easier for staff to remove behested payment filings and other documents from its website after seven years.
The Fair Political Practices Commission said Tuesday that the proposed regulatory amendment would not be brought up for discussion at its “Interested Persons” meeting Thursday afternoon in Sacramento.
“Staff always discusses and looks for ways to improve things,” FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga wrote in an email. “Some concerns were raised regarding this issue, so it’s always staff prerogative to add or subtract items and take them under further review.”
Current rules require that the commission post all commission opinions, staff advice letters, enforcement division warnings, advisory and closure letters and payments made to organizations at the behest of elected officials. The posts may only be removed by the approval of the commission.
The initial agenda for Thursday’s meeting included discussion of a proposal to allow the posts’ removal without the panel’s approval, with the change scheduled to be voted on Dec. 17. But the idea drew sharp criticism from the media and other groups.
Last week, Carmen Balber of Consumer Watchdog called the proposal a “strange move,” and a “step backwards to limit disclosure of money given to influence politicians.” Balber noted that it came after the commission adopted new rules designed to ban “dark money” in state campaigns.
“The FPPC has taken a strong stance to improve public disclosure of access and influence this year,” Balber wrote on the group’s website. “It shouldn't mar that record by burying behested gifts in the sands of time.”
Wierenga countered that “any narrative” that the FPPC is against disclosure is wrong. But as the commission looks at electronic filing and an updated website, he said, officials are reviewing online information that may be considered long in the tooth.
“With between 30,000-40,000 documents stored on our website, staff was looking to remove any outdated information that isn’t viewed or rarely used,” he said. “Pertinent and relevant information will always be available.”
Wierenga said the e-filing system is going out for bid soon while an overhauled website should launch by end of year. Meantime, a new-and-improved case management system, including a public portal to review information about complaints, should be done before next year’s elections.