CARS Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the CARS Project?

“CARS” stands for CAL-ACCESS Replacement System. The Secretary of State (SOS) has undertaken the CARS Project to implement a new system to replace the current CAL-ACCESS. In September of 2016, the Governor approved Senate Bill (SB) 1349. The bill directs the SOS to develop an online, data-driven filing and disclosure system.  The new CAL-ACCESS system is currently scheduled for implementation in December 2019.

2. Why is the Current CAL-ACCESS system being replaced?

Originally implemented in 2000, the current CAL-ACCESS system is an amalgamation of component applications that were developed at different times using multiple, now obsolete, coding languages, platforms, and technologies. CAL-ACCESS users and stakeholder groups have identified the following business problems:

  • Program business operations are negatively affected by the current system design.
  • Program business operations are at risk due to an old, unsupported information technology platform.
  • PRD and stakeholders have limited information access and reporting capabilities.
  • Current system technological limitations restrict the ability to modify the current system to accommodate changes in the law.  

The new and improved CAL-ACCESS will provide users a more efficient, sustainable system that is flexible, easier to use and allows heightened transparency into campaign and lobbying activity.

3. When will the new CAL-ACCESS System be available for filers and public use?

The new and improved CAL-ACCESS will be available for Campaign Finance and Lobbyist registration, filings and public data analytics, in December 2019.

4. Is this going to impact how I currently provide information to the Secretary of State?

Yes.  The CAL-ACCESS replacement system will automate forms and some business processes will change, requiring a change in the way you provide and access lobbying and campaign information in the future.

5. Where can I find more information about the CARS Project?

You can find more information about the CARS Project at the following link: http://www.sos.ca.gov/campaign-lobbying/cal-access-replacement-system-project-cars-updates/

For those interested in providing comments or asking questions, please contact the Secretary of State via email at PRDCARS@sos.ca.gov, by phone at (916) 653-6224, or by writing to: Secretary of State, Political Reform Division, 1500 11th Street, Rm. 495, Sacramento, CA 95814. 

We encourage you to sign up for the SOS electronic updates service to receive further project updates as they become available. Please click the "Sign up for e-updates" button on the CARS webpage linked above, provide your email and you will receive a welcome message from the SOS. Be sure to check the CAL-ACCESS Replacement System Project Updates checkbox and enter your email address. 

6. Are stakeholders going to participate in the testing process?

Some impacted stakeholders will be invited to participate in our testing process.

7. Will you be taking input from stakeholders on how the system should be designed?

We held two public forums in 2016 to gain input from external stakeholders. There are no current plans to hold additional forums.

8. Do current vendors need to be recertified/reapproved for the new CAL-ACCESS format?

It is anticipated that current approved vendors will need to be approved to use the new CAL-ACCESS system.  Interface specifications are currently scheduled for draft release in December 2018 and final release in mid-2019.

9. Do you have an unofficial/official specification document at this point?  

The Project Team is currently working on developing an integrated project schedule, which will provide the timeframes for complete initial and final specifications.  The high level project schedule currently has the design specification draft being available near the end of the fourth quarter of 2018.

10. What is the timeline for vendors to become compliant with the new system specifications?

Vendors will need to become compliant with the new system specifications before the system go-live in December of 2019.  The project team is developing an integrated project schedule, which will be used to communicate and specify the tasks and activities relevant to the vendor community.   The high level project schedule currently has the Electronic Filing Vendor interface testing starting in the summer of 2019 and system go-live in December 2019.

11. When are the vendor/filer public meetings anticipated to begin?

At this time, the Project Team is developing an Integrated Project Schedule. We anticipate the schedule to be finalized in the next few weeks. Currently, we plan to set up an initial kick-off session with Vendors and Service Providers approved for Electronic Filing to provide more information regarding availability of the interface specifications and anticipated timelines for development and testing. 

12. Besides the two public forums, did SOS consider any other input from stakeholders when designing the new CAL-ACCESS?

In addition to the valuable input gathered during the public forums in 2016, the CARS team conducted market research and industry benchmark analyses and received emailed and written correspondence from stakeholders, including campaign and lobbying filers, state agencies, public interest advocates and vendors approved to provide electronic filing in California. The CARS team read and considered the feasibility of each suggestion. Of 282 comments collected, 159 suggestions or comments became system requirements for the new CAL-ACCESS. The remainder of the suggestions and comments were largely redundant, non-specific, or outside the current scope of the project or domain of the Secretary of State.

13. Who is the CAL-ACCESS Replacement System project’s system integrator, and what experience do they have designing systems like CAL-ACCESS?

Enterprise Services, LLC, a Perspecta company, was selected as the system integrator for the CAL-ACCESS Replacement System project. They have partnered with PCC Technologies to design and implement the new CAL-ACCESS. PCC Technologies has extensive experience successfully implementing Campaign Finance, Lobbyist Tracking and Voter Registration software in over 30 states and localities. The CARS project team of technical and business subject matter experts will leverage that experience to develop an advanced system customized to meet the needs of California.

14. Will there be a single point of contact for users requiring system support?

Users requiring system support will be able to contact a centralized helpdesk for support.

15. CAL-ACCESS is being implemented shortly before a semi-annual filing deadline? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to delay the deployment?

Government Code 84602(a)(4) requires that CAL-ACCESS be implemented no later than December 31, 2019, which does fall immediately before a semi-annual filing deadline. Because of the statutory mandate, we are unable to delay the implementation without a regulatory change.

16. Will data from the old system be available after the new CAL-ACCESS is implemented?

SOS will migrate data from the legacy CAL-ACCESS to the new CAL-ACCESS.

17. SB 1239 does not take effect until the new system is certified. When do you expect the new system to be certified?

We expect the new CAL-ACCESS to be certified by the Secretary of State on or before December 31, 2019.

18. Will the raw data zip file be available in the new CAL-ACCESS?

Yes.

19. Will the new system allow filers to validate their data entry prior to submission in order to prevent filing errors?

Yes, filers submitting individual filings will be able to view a draft version of their electronic document and make changes prior to submission.

20. What file formats will be available for bulk file uploads?

Vendors, service providers and other bulk filers may upload data in Extensible Markup Language (XML) and Microsoft Excel formats. The SOS will provide blank Microsoft Excel files and XML schema definitions to the Software Vendor and Service Provider community as soon as the content and format have been accepted by the Secretary of State.

21. Will CAL-ACCESS be expanded to local filings?

The Secretary of State Political Reform Division completed a Local Filings Alternatives Analysis in 2017 to examine the feasibility of including local filings in a centralized statewide e-filing system like the new CAL-ACCESS. A centralized statewide e-filing system would involve coordinating 58 counties and 482 cities, a significant challenge in both development and deployment that would stretch the state’s financial resources and technological capacity. Consequently, it was decided the implementation of the new CAL-ACCESS would not include local filings at this time.

22. Will the new CAL-ACCESS provide an API for vendors and service providers who upload files electronically?

The State is currently evaluating the benefits and disadvantages of including an Application Programming Interface (API) to the new CAL-ACCESS for use by software vendors and service providers.

23. Has SOS considered incorporating features from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) website into the new CAL-ACCESS?

When considering features to include in the new CAL-ACCESS, the CARS team solicited input from a diverse group of stakeholders and conducted market research and industry benchmark analyses. The market research was conducted on systems used by other states of similar size whose systems had received high scores for data content and usability in a study conducted by the UCLA School of Law, the Center for Governmental Studies and the California Voter Foundation. Because the Federal Election Commission website is not a state based system, it was not included in market research and no specific features of the FEC website were researched for inclusion in the new CAL-ACCESS.

24. Will the new CAL-ACCESS electronic upload process link a single transactional record to multiple amendments when required (e.g., loan payments, independent expenditures)? Will the user have to identify all of the filings that must be amended?

The new CAL-ACCESS tracks unique transaction IDs assigned by the 3rd party software that allow independent expenditures, loan payments, payments to vendors and similar transactions to be linked to multiple amendments or filings as required. The user will not have to identify the filings that must be amended.

25. Will the filer be able to edit a filing that has been electronically uploaded by an approved vendor?

Yes. The vendor will receive notification of subsequent edits to files the vendor has uploaded electronically.

26. Will the vendors’ transaction IDs be stored as part of the electronically uploaded file?

Yes.

27. Will the implementation date change due to the early primary?

Government Code section 84602(a)(4) requires that CAL-ACCESS be implemented no later than December 31, 2019.

28. What is the planned architecture for the new CAL-ACCESS?

The new CAL-ACCESS will be a cloud-based architecture that has been designed to accommodate higher transaction volumes during peak filing periods.

29. How will bulk electronic filers correct data previously uploaded to the new CAL-ACCESS?

Prior to submission/ filing, data entry may be edited and saved until satisfactory. Once submitted/ filed, it can be changed by an amendment process, at which time the transaction will be considered an amended filing.

30. How will starting cash values or existing debts from the legacy CAL-ACCESS be addressed by the new CAL-ACCESS?

As part of conversion, the ending cash balance for each committee will be brought forward from the legacy system as will any existing debts or Schedule F Accrued Expenses. On filing the initial report in the new system, the committee will have the opportunity to correct the initial cash balance.

31. Since filers will no longer submit paper forms, how can filers be confident that filings are not changed by software updates to the new CAL-ACCESS?

The new CAL-ACCESS will allow authorized users to enter data for filings required to support the business function similar to filing a paper form. Once the data is entered, the user has the ability to review it in a PDF Version of the form prior to final submission. Once a filing is submitted, a PDF version of the data in this form format is saved within the system.