California lawmakers, raising fears of political violence, want to shield their properties

Citing safety threats, California lawmakers are advancing a bill that would keep the property they own and other personal information from annual financial disclosures off the internet.

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Photo by Fred Greaves for CalMatters

The measure, Assembly Bill 1170, would shift to an electronic filing system for the statement of economic interest, known as Form 700, that elected officials and some public employees in California are required to complete each year.

But a secondary provision proposes to expand the redactions on publicly available versions of the form, shielding the addresses of filers’ real property interests and businesses, though they would still be available upon request.

Organizations that advocate for greater transparency in government have objected to withholding information that could illuminate conflicts of interest. Laurel Brodzinsky, legislative director for California Common Cause, said Form 700 is an important tool for understanding how elected officials’ economic interests shape their decision-making.

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“We do think that having that transparency is really important for accountability,” Brodzinsky said.

A compromise on the bill — which passed through the Assembly today on a 58-0 vote and is headed to the Senate — may be imminent.

Assemblymember Avelino Valencia, the Anaheim Democrat who is carrying the measure, said he is working on amendments that would narrow the redactions to only addresses where a filer lives. He declined to further discuss any changes.

“By modernizing state processes and improving government efficiency, we are focused on the priority of saving the state money during this critical budget time,” Valencia said in a text message. “However, that will not come at the expense of the public’s access to government documents that provide transparency into potential conflicts of interest.”

Lawmakers are increasingly raising concerns about what they say has been a rise in political violence and harassment in recent years, such as the October 2022 hammer attack against then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband at their San Francisco home.

During a committee hearing for AB 1170 earlier this month, Assemblymember Gail Pellerin, a Santa Cruz Democrat, said she believes “the expanded redaction requirements in the bill are important to ensure filers’ privacy and safety.” 

The Legislature approved another bill last year that would have expanded the ability of California political candidates to use campaign funds to pay for security expenses, such as home security systems and bodyguards. It was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said the measure did not provide enough guidance on what would be a legitimate security expense.

The Fair Political Practices Commission, the state campaign ethics regulator that manages the statement of economic interest, sponsored Valencia’s bill because it wants to require electronic filing of the form. Senior legislative counsel Lindsey Nakano said the redaction provision came out of discussions with lawmakers about increased security and safety issues.

“We heard concern about people who might use the addresses found online on the Form 700s to harass the filer or those connected to them, including to potentially harass tenants of real property owned by the Form 700 filer,” Nakano said in an email. “I’m not aware of any specific incidences.”

The bill, as currently written, would also require the commission to redact the signature, personal address and telephone number of a filer, though none of that information currently appears in the copies of Form 700s available online.

Brodzinsky of California Common Cause said there are reasonable limitations on what information is disclosed about elected officials and other public servants given the threat of violence. 

“We do understand the concerns of the privacy of the filer and they would not want their residential address out so publicly on the internet,” she said.

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Comments

  1. Rico Lagattuta says

    All Californians are entitled to the same shield of protection as elected officials and government employees. This protection should be applied to every person in the state.

    • Tired of the Bull CRAP! says

      EXACTLY!!!! We’re JUST as important as them!!!! We PAY their salaries – they are NOT royalty, tho they may think and act like they are!!! Tired of watching elected get richer and richer – when they’re in office. We’re NOT!!!! 🙁

      • For decades, the policy on Form 700 is to show the “business” address and other contact information. If you are an elected official, you just put City Hall, the County Building, or whatever.

        Elected officials, judges, law enforcement officers, and some others are exempt from having their DMV information released. So, if you see someone in an auto doing something bad and want to get their names and contact information, if you have the license number, you can do it — UNLESS you are exempted.

        This drives toll bridges and roads nuts because they can’t use the license plate information to find who is skipping out.

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