Cypress officials may soon make it easier for residents to decipher who is financing their local elected officials by posting campaign disclosures dating back a decade or so on their city website as residents call for more transparency.
Councilwoman Francis Marquez, who requested the change, will work with city staff to consider whether to expand direct access for residents on the city website to better understand how local elected officials fundraise for the campaigns, disclose conflicts and relevant income.
Marquez’s interaction with staff comes after a city council discussion this week. Mayor Paulo Morales’ verbally suggested Marquez work with staff to flesh out the time constraints it will put on the city clerk’s office.
Her aim is to put campaign disclosure statements as well as economic interest statements for candidates and elected officials on the city website.
“It’s important that everything is very transparent for the residents to see what each candidate and council member is doing with their campaign funds,” Marquez said.
[Read: Cypress Ponders How Easy it Should be For Residents to Understand Who’s Financing Local Elected Officials]
The debate comes after David Burke, a Cypress resident running for city council, authored a report through his nonprofit, Citizens Take Action, ranking OC cities on their campaign finance laws and how transparent they are.
His report ranked Cypress with an F, a failing grade, along with the cities of Fullerton, Buena Park, Mission Viejo, La Habra, Villa Park, La Palma and Tustin.
Burke’s report recommends Cypress officials enact various contribution limits as well as post campaign disclosures that go back four election cycles on the city website.
“Cypress also does not have any prohibitions or limits on campaign contributions by prospective city contractors, or on developers seeking approval from local officials. Nor is there a limited fundraising window during which candidates can raise money,” he wrote in his report.
“The absence of such limits makes local elections and government vulnerable to undue influence from large donors.”
Meanwhile, cities like Santa Ana, Dana Point, Fountain Valley, Irvine, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Seal Beach and Laguna Woods got an A.
Read the full report here to see how your city ranked.
Councilman Jon Peat said he agreed with Marquez about the need for transparency.
He also said for Form 700s, which display an elected official’s potential conflicts of interest, it may just be best to link to the Fair Political Practice Commission website which he said was the “repository” for the original documents.
“If we start pulling files and storing them on our website, apart from the original source documents, we risk getting errors,” he said.
The city already provides that link to the FPPC on their website.
Despite Peat’s concerns, Voice of OC found back in 2020 through our own investigation that 14 cities post Form 700s on their websites directly.
In 2020, Voice of OC, working with Chapman University journalism students, published an investigative story in which students ranked Orange County cities by color on how transparent they are in terms of showcasing elected officials campaign donation 460 forms and conflict of interest 700 forms.
[Read: User-Friendly Government: Which OC Cities are Most Transparent Online]
Following publication of the story, some cities like Orange and Westminster immediately started to make changes to provide the information on their website.
The highest rank was green for cities that provided both forms on their website including Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Irvine, Lake Forest, Los Alamitos, Newport Beach, Orange, Placentia, San Clemente, Santa Ana, Tustin, Westminster and Yorba Linda.
The lowest rank was red which included Cypress and Laguna Woods who did not provide forms on their website and for Forms 700 did not link out to the
Both cities have made changes since then.
Laguna Woods’ website now provides a link to the California Fair Political Practice Commission website where the 700 forms can be found. According to the Laguna Woods website, no 460 forms were filed for the last three elections.
In fact, Burke gave Laguna Woods an A in his own report.
Since the investigation, Cypress now provides the campaign disclosure forms beginning 2021 on their website while economic interest 700 forms are available on the California Fair Political Practices Commission website, which is linked on the city website.
Marquez asked for the forms dating back 8-10 be posted online.
City Clerk Alisha Farnell said the city has hard copies of the campaign donation forms and that it would take a long time to scan and upload the forms going back 8-10 years.
Burke addressed concerns about the time it would take to post the forms online at Monday’s meeting.
“I also want to point out that it will save time in the long run, because citizens won’t have to request that information,” said Burke, who is running for city council. “The vast majority of cities in Orange County put more of that information on their websites and so I’m confident that we can do the same.”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.
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