History of the Political Reform Division

In 1893, the California State Legislature enacted its first campaign finance disclosure statute titled the "Purity of Elections Law" (AB 8, Shanahan) based on an English law passed ten years earlier. The California law covered aspects of election corruption of concern at that time, including bribery, coercion, fraud, and secret financing of campaigns.  Provisions of the Purity of Elections Law included requirements that candidates and their committees file with the Secretary of State detailed financial statements disclosing campaign receipts and expenditures.

In 1911, as part of the Progressive reform movement in California, the initiative, referendum, and recall were added to the State Constitution.  Almost immediately, ballot measures began to play an increasing role in the creation of public policy.  But  ballot measure campaigns were not covered by the Purity of Elections Law.  So, in 1921, legislation (SB 133, Eden) was enacted to require financial disclosure by organizations supporting or opposing statewide ballot measures.

Although the disclosure of campaign finances was required throughout the first half of the 20th Century, there was no corresponding requirement for financial disclosure of lobbying activities - attempts by individuals and organizations to influence the decisions of State Government.  Ironically, the lack of interest in disclosing lobbying activities may have been partly due to the success of Progressive reformers.  The Progressives had accomplished their goal of effectively limiting the political influence of the Southern Pacific Railroad, so there was little apparent reason to regulate lobbying practices because other lobbying interests were relatively weak by comparison.  However, by the 1940's the lobbying vacuum was filled with an imposing figure - Arthur H. Samish.  “Artie” Samish, now considered by many, the most powerful individual lobbyist in the history of California became a symbol of the need for reform.  Critics such as the popular progressive, three-term California Governor Earl Warren said of Samish: "On matters that affect his clients, Artie unquestionably has more power than the governor."  In 1949, the “Lobbying Control Act” (AB 74, Erwin) was adopted to regulate lobbying practices and require the disclosure of lobbying financial activities.

The provisions of law requiring financial disclosure of campaign and lobbying activities remained in place, with a variety of amendments, until the mid-1970's.  In 1974, a coalition of reformers qualified Proposition 9, sponsored by then-Secretary of State Jerry Brown, for the statewide ballot.  Titled "The Political Reform Act," the measure included new requirements for reporting campaign and lobbying activities, and was the most detailed disclosure law in the nation.  One of its major features was a response to ongoing criticism of the earlier lobbying disclosure law that originally required lobbying statements to be filed with the State Legislature.  Because most of the information contained in lobbying statements directly related to the Legislature itself, reformers argued (and the Political Reform Act mandated) that lobbying statements be filed with the Secretary of State where campaign disclosure statements had always been filed.

The Political Reform Act of 1974 was written before the Watergate revelations.  However, by the time Proposition 9 appeared on the ballot, the Watergate scandal and its ramifications were publicly revealed, and reform proposals were sweeping the country.  The Political Reform Act passed with an overwhelming majority of the vote.  As a consequence, the Political Reform Division was created in the Office of the Secretary of State in order to administer key provisions of the new law.  The Act also created a new, independent state agency - the Fair Political Practices Commission.  The five-member Commission, chaired by Jodi Remke, is responsible for interpreting and enforcing the Act.

Subsequent to the Act taking effect in 1975, it has undergone amendments and revisions every year.  Among the most prominent revisions, was the addition of the Online Disclosure Act of 1997 (SB 49, Karnette), which authorized the creation of an online, electronic filing and disclosure system called the California Automated Lobbying And Campaign Contribution and Expenditure Search System (CAL-ACCESS).  Implemented in June 2000 for campaign finance disclosure filings, CAL-ACCESS now provides continuous internet access for the public to electronically filed campaign and lobbying statements and reports.  The Legislature followed up the launch of CAL-ACCESS by placing Proposition 34 (SB 1223, Burton) on the November 7, 2000 ballot.  The proposition was approved by more than 60% of the voters and implemented sweeping changes to the Political Reform Act.  Among its many provisions was a requirement that contributions of $1,000 or more, made within 90 days of an election, be disclosed within 24 hours.  Prop. 34 also implemented new, 10-business-day reporting for contributions of $5,000 or more to candidates and statewide ballot measures made at any other time.  Access to the raw data stored in the CAL-ACCESS database was made publicly available online on August 28, 2013.  This “open data” effort led to the creation of a new, open-source search engine called “Power Search” by the non-profit organization MapLight.  Developed at no cost to the state, Secretary of State Alex Padilla worked with MapLight to host Power Search on the Secretary of State’s webpages starting on September 2, 2015, creating a faster, more convenient means for the public to conduct comprehensive searches for contributions and contributors to state candidates and statewide ballot measures.  The success of Power Search led to the addition of an open-source search engine for independent expenditures to state candidates and ballot measures, also developed by MapLight at no cost to the state.  The independent expenditure search engine was launched on February 9, 2016.

These innovations have expanded and changed the responsibilities of the Secretary of State's Political Reform Division over time as it sought to keep pace with changes in the law.  For a description of our current activities, go to the Responsibilities of the Political Reform Division page.