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PD Editorial: Letting voters know about paid bloggers

  • California Fair Political Practices Commission chair Ann Ravel, left, questions attorney Bradley Hertz, as his discusses the effects on his clients of the alleged embezzlement by a former campaign treasurer, of hundreds of thousands of dollars in missing campaign funds , during a FPPC meeting in Sacramento, Calif., Friday, Sept. 30, 2011. Federal prosecutors charged Democratic treasurer Kinde Durkee earlier this month with mail fraud and said she siphoned $700,000 from the campaign accounts of state Assemblyman Jose Solorio and others including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feintsein. Hertz was one of several representatives of Democratic candidates and lawmakers asking the commission to temporarily relax financial reporting rules and waive some contribution limits as they try to recover from the loss of campaign funds. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Several times a year, candidates and elected officials file campaign finance reports. News accounts typically focus on how much money has been raised and, sometimes, identify a few deep-pocket donors.

There's another purpose for these reports, and it can be just as illuminating. Yet it gets a whole lot less attention. Candidates also must disclose how campaign cash gets spent.

Many of the expenditures are predictable: campaign consultants, professional fundraisers, TV and radio advertising, mass mailings, reimbursements for meals and travel.

Some incumbents curry favor with party leaders or foster alliances by sharing their war chests with other candidates. Some buy clothes or cars, ostensibly for campaigning. Some hand out expensive gifts and even put spouses and children on the campaign payroll.

With more people looking for news and information online, it's increasingly common for candidates to tap their campaign accounts to pay bloggers for friendly treatment or to pay people to post comments on websites and social media.

When it comes time to report campaign spending, those payments are often hidden within reported expenditures for advertising or consulting, or they fall under the $500 threshold for itemized disclosure.

To help voters determine whether they're looking at a genuine personal opinion or paid propaganda, the state Fair Political Practices Commission is considering a regulation requiring candidates to itemize payments to bloggers just as they must for other campaign workers.

We liked this idea right away.

After listening to some of the ridiculous concerns raised by political consultants and bloggers, we like it even better.

At the FPPC's meeting in August, it was noted that Sutter Brown would be "outed" if the disclosure rule is adopted.

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