Giant pile of money

by Joe Yerardi | inewsource

UPDATE (3/3/15): The Board of Supervisors passed the proposal to establish mandatory electronic filing of reports for candidates and committees raising or spending more than $10,000. A final vote will be held March 17.

The San Diego County Registrar of Voters office is upgrading its system for tracking campaign contributions and expenditures to allow electronic filing and hopes to have the new system — along with corresponding regulations — in place by early summer.

The County Board of Supervisors will consider Tuesday a proposal to require county candidates and political committees that raise or spend at least $10,000 to file their campaign finance reports electronically.

The upgrade — which is already underway — means that the public will soon be able to download information from the reports as machine-readable data that can be easily imported into spreadsheet and database software for analysis by journalists, academics and the public at large.

The San Diego City Clerk’s office has for nearly a decade used a similar system for city candidates.

“The main thrust is greater transparency,” said Registrar of Voters Michael Vu.

Currently, county candidates and committees file their campaign finance reports to the Registrar on paper. County staff must manually scan, redact and upload to the Internet an image of the documents they receive.

Last spring, inewsource reported on the system, which open government advocates have decried as antiquated in today’s era of big money politics.

Vu said the proposal would likely not affect candidates who run for dozens of lower-level county positions like water boards that don’t attract significant political spending. Those candidates would still be allowed to file electronically if they wish.

“We already know that the majority of all filings at this time are going to be on paper,” Vu said.

When San Diego County selected Riverside-based SouthTech Systems Inc. as its filing vendor in 2010, it asked the company to look into providing e-filing capabilities.

The company’s co-owner told inewsource last March that it was beta testing e-filing capabilities and hoped to have them ready within 90 days.

Vu said the county currently pays SouthTech $11,000 a year for its filing software. After the upgrade, that cost will jump to $58,000 annually.

Should the proposal win approval Tuesday and at a second meeting on March 17, the rules would go into effect in mid-April. Vu said he anticipates having the electronic filing system ready to go in time for committees to file their semi-annual campaign finance reports at the end of July.

Joe Yerardi is a freelance data journalist for inewsource, where he worked between 2013 and 2016 as an investigative reporter and data specialist. To contact him with questions, tips or corrections, email