(12-04) 04:00 PST Sacramento --
Open-government advocates filed a lawsuit against the state Wednesday, asking
a Superior Court judge to order the Legislative Counsel to provide an electronic
database containing information on bills and lawmakers' voting records.
The suit was filed jointly by the California First Amendment Coalition and
MAPlight.org, a nonprofit in Berkeley that operates a Web site that analyzes the
relationship between campaign contributions by special-interest groups and how
lawmakers vote on legislation.
Last summer, both groups asked the state office to provide the information
either on a CD or a DVD, but officials at the agency refused.
The complaint is centered around the California Public Records Act, which
requires state and local governments to make certain information available to
"The government already creates a database of all the votes and all the
bills. They are important civic information and important for our
democracy," said Daniel Newman, co-founder and executive director of
Jeff DeLand, chief deputy at the Legislative Counsel's office, declined to
comment Wednesday, saying his office had not seen the lawsuit.
The Legislative Counsel gives legal advice to the Legislature and writes the
technical language in bills. The office also operates a Web site that can search
information on bills, analysis of legislation written by legislative committees,
lists of supporters and opponents of the legislation, and voting records of
But that information comes up in individual text files, making it nearly
impossible for analysis that would require aggregating such information into a
database, said Newman.
Rachel Matteo-Boehm, a lawyer for MAPlight.org, said representatives of the
Legislative Counsel's office have argued that the agency's Web site satisfies
the legal requirement of the state's public records law. DeLand on Wednesday
declined to respond.
Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition,
said he's puzzled by the agency's refusal to make the information available in
"We're simply asking for a day-to-day database as they exist," he
said, adding that the coalition got involved to assist MAPlight.org.
The Berkeley nonprofit's Web site contains similar up-to-date information on
Congress. The group receives voting records of members of Congress about an hour
after they vote on legislation, getting the data from a third-party firm that
tracks such information.
"We are a powerful transparency tool to look at how legislators vote and
how special interests influence them," Newman said.