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.
Not familiar with Sutter Brown?
He's the governor's dog.
He has his own Twitter account. A Facebook page, too. It's ever so precious. And, goodness gracious, it would be worse than spoiling Christmas to acknowledge that Sutter doesn't put his paws to the keyboard for the running commentary posted in his name.
The FPPC started work on this rule three years ago, and it has been considerably improved, based in part on feedback from bloggers themselves.
In its first iteration, the rule would have required bloggers to disclose any payments from political campaigns, which raised obvious First Amendment issues. The current proposal appropriately places the disclosure requirement where it belongs: with candidates.
As we noted, campaigns already must report their expenditures. This rule would simply add a level of specificity to those reports, making them an even more useful tool for informed voters.
The FPPC is scheduled to vote on the rule at a meeting next week in Sacramento. The watchdog commission should adopt it without further delay. We're confident that Sutter Brown's fans will understand.