IE11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

State Panel Delves into Delays in New Data Portal

Secretary of State Shirley Weber said the prior vendor contracts were canceled and her office is now working with the California Department of Technology, using its project management system.

After $30 million spent and six years since the Legislature passed a bill to overhaul Cal-Access — the data portal maintained by the Secretary of State’s office that tracks campaign donations and lobbying expenditures — why has the state still not rolled out the long-anticipated replacement?

As CalMatters political reporter Sameea Kamal writes, that’s the question the state Senate elections committee sought to answer in a hearing Tuesday. The stakes are high: As members of several advocacy groups noted, transparency surrounding campaign disclosures is crucial to trust in elections.

State Sen. Steve Glazer, the Walnut Creek Democrat who leads the election committee, told Kamal: “Cal-Access is critical infrastructure for our democracy that is continuing to crumble. We have spent over $30 million and have nothing to show for it. And it’s not clear to me that there’s been full accountability for that.”

Part of the challenge: The project started under former Secretary of State Alex Padilla, whom Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed to the U.S. Senate in 2020 to replace Kamala Harris when she was elected vice president. Shirley Weber, whom Newsom tapped to replace Padilla, said she inherited a myriad of issues following the transition, including data migration problems and negative user feedback that wasn’t incorporated.

At the root of the problems: vendor contracts that didn’t properly guarantee deliverables and a lack of ownership of the project within Padilla’s office, Weber said. Brian Metzker, an analyst with the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, also noted that the project involved an “off-the-shelf” software system that couldn’t handle the complexities of the data.

“I don’t think we’ve gotten the full story on the millions of dollars that were spent on so-called experts to rebuild the system,” Glazer said.

Padilla spokesperson Tess Whittlesey said the senator was aware of the issues with the original contractor and the decision to transition to the second vendor was under his leadership. Despite those initial delays, “the program was moving forward when he transitioned to the Senate.”

Still, this isn’t the first time contracts approved by Padilla’s office have come under scrutiny. In 2020, it awarded a $35 million no-bid contract for a statewide voter education campaign to a public affairs firm tied to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign — over the objections of state Controller Betty Yee’s office, which repeatedly said Padilla’s office didn’t have the budgetary authority to do so. State lawmakers later found a way to retroactively OK money for the contract.

Where does the Cal-Access replacement project stand now? Weber said the prior vendor contracts were canceled and her office is now working with the California Department of Technology, using its project management system. She has also assigned some of her staff to oversee the project, as opposed to Padilla, who relied on an outside contractor.

While Weber declined to give a cost estimate or timeline for the new project, an independent assessment for the current project road map found it would be completed between 2024 and 2026 and could cost an additional $43.2 million.

And while Glazer said he hopes there will be additional hearings to investigate the matter further, that will depend on the future leadership of the elections committee.

This article first appeared in
CalMatters is a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.