Citing the need for greater transparency in elections, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors Tuesday tentatively approved an ordinance requiring all candidates for a county office to file campaign finance disclosures electronically whenever contributions exceed $5,000.
Supervisor John Benoit proposed the measure, which was approved in a 5-0 vote and is slated to come back for a final reading on Oct. 25.
"The purpose is to take a good system and make it better,'' Benoit said. "I believe it's a huge step in the direction of transparency. All board members are doing this. It'll make it an even playing field for all players.''
Candidates currently have the option of filing campaign finance statements with the Registrar of Voters' office via mail, fax or online.
Posting disclosures to the registrar's website via the Internet is instantaneous, whereas sending information using more traditional methods can result in weeks-long delays, frustrating efforts to track the contributions that candidates are raking in during an election cycle, according to Benoit.
He originally proposed a $1,000 threshold for electronic filing, but decided that would create too much of a burden on "grassroots campaigners'' who may receive only a couple of thousand dollars in contributions.
"If you hit the $5,000 threshold, you are a serious candidate,'' the supervisor said.
Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries of Lakeland Village will be affected by the ordinance, as he seeks a spot on the Riverside County Board of Supervisors in 2012. Jeffries terms out in the State Assembly next year. He announced his supervisorial bid this spring.
Benoit first brought the issue of campaign finance forward in June, saying his experiences in the Legislature taught him the value of e-filing campaign disclosures, thereby allowing greater -- and more timely -- public scrutiny.
Riverside resident Robert Mabe, a frequent critic of board actions, worried that using the Internet exclusively to post campaign finance statements would leave government watchdogs without a "paper trail'' to follow.
"You're not going to enforce this anyway,'' Mabe said. "Anything you do ... is going to be for your benefit and not the people's.''
Board Chairman Bob Buster countered that the intent of the ordinance is to strengthen the "democratic process.''
"This kind of transparency is going to help the little guy, the average citizen, in getting the word out about who's funding what and who's pouring money in where,'' Buster said.
The ordinance applies to candidates for any county office, including special district seats. Candidates for municipal offices would not be required to comply, but could voluntarily file online.
Independent political advocacy committees and candidate-controlled committees that spend or receive $5,000 in an election cycle -- the three months leading up to election day -- would also be required to file online, within 24 hours of the contribution or expenditure, according to the ordinance. --Toni McAllister contributed to this report.