Capitol Alert

Secretary of state hits California’s ‘Frankenstein monster’ campaign finance database

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla in the courtyard of the Secretary of State building Monday December 1, 2014 in Sacramento.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla in the courtyard of the Secretary of State building Monday December 1, 2014 in Sacramento. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

California’s online database for tracking campaign donations and lobbying dollars is in dire need of a “complete rebuild,” Secretary of State Alex Padilla told lawmakers on Friday.

“The guts of Cal Access and how it’s built and how it has evolved leaves much to be desired,” Padilla said during a Senate hearing on campaign finance. “From a technical, a coding standpoint it’s often referred to as a Frankenstein monster of code.”

Journalists and transparency advocates have for years faulted the clunky database, saying it impedes efforts to track influence. Padilla embraced those criticisms and said the state needs to overhaul the database and move from an outdated, paper-based system to a digital-first version.

“We’re doing our best with duct tape and rubber bands,” Padilla said. “We need a new Cal Access. No more band-aids, no more glossy polish. We need a complete rebuild of the system.”

Padilla alluded to signs of progress like his office’s collaboration with the organization MapLight. But he cited the need for more money and stressed that the procurement process for building a new system could be a headache, noting that the state has a long history of paying for tech projects that fall short.

“I dare you to search ‘state of California IT project’ and see what kind of headlines come back,” Padilla said, noting that it can take years to hire a vendor. He added that a rebuild would require “significant additional funds” from the state’s General Fund.

Legislators were sympathetic.

“The procurement issue…has been haunting us for years,” said Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley.

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert

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