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L.A. County board approves political donations database

A decade's worth of campaign contributions will be available for searches online.

September 05, 2007|Jack Leonard | Times Staff Writer

Hoping to improve public access to campaign finance records, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to build a searchable, online database of campaign contributions that will include a decade's worth of political donations.

In recent weeks, the county registrar-recorder's office launched a website that allows the public for the first time to search contributions given to candidates for supervisor, sheriff, district attorney and assessor. But that site -- http://efs.lacounty.gov/public_search.cfm -- includes contributions made only since January.

County officials originally said it would take too long and cost too much to add earlier contributions. But The Times recently built its own database of contributions since 1998 and made it available for the public at http://www.latimes.com/ supcontributions. The newspaper spent $6,300 to hire a private company to enter only the donations.

Supervisors on Tuesday approved spending $72,309 to have four data-entry workers manually enter all contributions, loans and expenditures made since county voters approved campaign-finance limits in November 1996. The work is expected to take up to four months.

The county has lagged behind other government entities, such as the state and the city of Los Angeles, in making the information searchable online. Printed copies of recent county campaign donation records are posted online, but they are difficult to view and do not allow easy searches for individual donors.

Open-government advocates said that providing an online searchable database of contributions gives the public the most effective tool for tracking the influence of money on political campaigns.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who proposed Tuesday's action, said other jurisdictions had moved ahead of the county.

"I think it's an added level of accessibility," he said. "It's a service we're providing to the general public as well as ourselves."

Supervisor Don Knabe questioned the proposal, saying that it was not legally necessary.

"My issue continues to be why do we need to spend $100,000 when they're a public document already," he said.

Nevertheless, Knabe voted for the proposal.

jack.leonard@latimes.com

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