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New Bill Would Modernize Outdated Cal-Access Website


Outdated, dilapidated and “Frankenstein’s monster” are how some California elections officials have described Cal-Access, the state database that tracks political spending. A bill in the California State Senate would overhaul the late 1990s website.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla says new features have been stitched onto Cal-Access, but the underlying code is the same as at its launch.

“When it was rolled out, we were in the era of pagers and flip phones,” says Padilla.

Rob Lapsley was undersecretary of state when he helped launch Cal-Access.

He says, “We thought that system would be in existence for three, four, five years and then the next generation technology would start to take place.”

That was at the turn of the millennium, but California continues to use the same website to track campaign contributions and lobbying. Over time, the complexity and fragility of the code has grown, as the government has stapled on more functions. That’s led to the Frankenstein comparisons.

Senator Bob Hertzberg has introduced a bill to modernize the system.

According to Hertzberg, “It is in need of a complete rebuild.”

The estimated cost is about $14 million. The bill is backed by the Secretary of State, the California Business Roundtable, and the advocacy group Common Cause. Supporters of a campaign finance reform ballot initiative say they will halt their efforts and support this bill instead.