By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE
(The Center Square) – Despite nearly $40 million spent to update California’s antiquated campaign finance website, state lawmakers are still awaiting the roll out of a new platform that was initially scheduled to go live in 2019. Now that may be pushed back to June 2026.
That was the subject of a hearing by the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee, where senators and panelists sought to understand the delay in rolling out an updated version of the California Automated Lobbying and Campaign Contribution Electronic Search System, better known as Cal-Access. The system, first launched in 2000, is used by lawmakers, watchdogs, reporters and politicians to track campaign and lobbying financial activity.
A 2016 bill by now-retired Senator Robert Hertzberg required the Secretary of State, who oversees Cal-Access, to replace the outdated system by the end of 2019. But after asking for multiple extensions, the Secretary of State’s Office announced in June 2021 that the rollout of the new system would be delayed.
Since 2016, the state has appropriated $55.6 million for the project, and about $39.4 million has been spent – representing about 70% of the money appropriated, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.
Secretary of State Shirley Weber explained to lawmakers on Tuesday that she saw the problems with the system after she inherited the project from former Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who is now a California state senator. Mr. Padilla at the time called Cal-Access “Frankenstein’s monster of code.”
Ms. Weber, who was tapped by Gov. Gavin Newsom to replace Mr. Padilla, told the committee that the new system was plagued with several issues and was not ready to go live in June 2021 as planned.
“It became clear to me that there was no confidence in the readiness to launch the system,” Ms. Weber said. “I could have done the politically correct thing and launched the system and blamed everybody else for its failures, but I thought California deserved better.”
Ms. Weber explained that contracts with outside vendors did not identify specific deliverables for the project, resulting in millions of dollars spent without a usable website to show for it. Additionally, when Ms. Weber inherited the website, she said the platform struggled with issues related to data migration and testing defects that impacted readiness.
To resolve these issues, the Secretary of State’s office is now working with the California Department of Technology to oversee the website’s development. CDT’s process includes four steps as part of its Project Approval Lifecycle, and the SOS expects to complete the second step in spring 2023.
At this point, the LAO forecasts that the updated website could be finished sometime in June 2026 – a decade after lawmakers passed legislation to overhaul the current system.