Evaluation of California state website

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Budget P
Usability P
Legislative P
Executive P
Lobbying P
Public records P
State agency websitesGuide.png
Transparency grading process

CA.gov is the website for the state of California (Sunshine Review).

Website evaluation

In 2010, 2011, and 2012 the California earned a Sunny Award for having a perfect website transparency score.

This website was reviewed on an unknown date. At this time it scored 71 out of a 100 possible points, earning a C+ grade according to Sunshine Review's transparency checklist.

The good

  • Budget (5/10 pts)
    • The current proposed budget for 2013-2014 is published.[1]
    • Historical budgets are available dating back to 2007-2008 year.[2]
    • The revised budget will be published in the summer of 2013.[3]
    • Appropriations are listed by department.[4]
    • Some offices use graphs to show financial data overtime and there is data in excel format with spending and revenue over time.[5]
  • Usability (2/10 pts)
    • Internal search bar is functional.
    • Language used on the ca.gov is largely "plain english" and not full of jargon, but other departments do not meet this requirement.
    • Some PDFs are searchable.
    • Some agencies post data in a drill down fashion and have data that can be downloaded.
  • Executive (7/10 pts)
    • Salaries are published for the executive branch.[6]
    • A mailing address, phone number and email form is provided.[7]
    • Party affiliation is found in the governor's biography.[8]
    • The governor's appoints are listed online.[9]
    • Upcoming election information is disclosed.[10]
    • Voting records, or bills signed into law by the Governor, are available through the legislature or the governor's press releases.[11][12]
  • Legislative (6/10 pts)
    • Salaries are published for the legislative assembly.[6]
    • Assembly members are listed with a mailing address, phone number, and email form.[13]
    • Committee appointments are listed online for the Assembly and Senate.[14][15]
    • Assembly and senate members do not receive a pension.
    • Assembly members and their staffs' salaries are published online.[16]
    • Assembly members are listed with their terms and party affiliations.
    • Though difficult to navigate, all bills and their voting records are disclosed online dating back to 1993.[17]
    • All California Senators are listed with their party affiliation, mailing address, phone number and an email contact form.[18]
    • Senate members and their employees salaries are disclosed.[19]
  • Ethics (10/10 pts)
    • The "Fair Political Practices Commission" oversees ethics investigations in California and publishes the conclusion of each investigation.[20]
    • Information and online training on ethics guidelines is available.[21]
    • The process for filing a complaint and the complain form are provided.[22]
  • Compensation (10/10 pts)
    • Wages are published by department.[23]
    • Tax expenditure reports are published up to 2012-2013.[24]
  • Audits (10/10 pts)
    • The most current audit and audits dating back to 2006-7 are published.[25]
    • Information concerning the scope and calendar of audits is published.[26]
    • Performance audits are disclosed with other audit reports.
  • Contracts (10/10 pts)
    • State contract information is indexed concerning commodity contracts, food contracts, state price schedules, WSCA contracts, and master agreements.[27]
    • Information on how to register with the state and other guidelines are posted online.[28]
    • Bids and RFPs are published online.[29]
  • Lobbying (6/10 pts)
    • Lobbying database specifies lobbyist, company, client, agency being lobbied, purpose of lobbying.[30]
    • There is a database of registered lobbyists.
    • Some information can be found concerning individual grants given to non-profits, but a drill-down database of the information is not available.[31]
    • The databases specifies the purpose of lobbying and total amounts spent in each lobbying firm's Form 601.[32]
  • Public records (5/10 pts)
    • All departments are listed in a central location, most including a link to a personalized email.[33]
    • The public record's law details how to pursue public records violations.[34]
    • Citizens can request public records via email, but there is no online process.
    • The Assembly Appropriations Committee broadcasts its meetings.[35]
    • Meeting agendas are published 24 hours before a meeting.
    • Senate appropriation meeting videos are archived.[36]

The bad

  • Budget
    • Checkbook register data could not be located.
    • Graphs showing spending and revenue over time could not be located.
    • Appropriation bills are not listed one week before being voted on.
    • The proposed budget is not published 7 days prior to being voted on.
  • Usability
    • Financial information is spread across many domain names and takes more than 6 clicks to find.
    • Not all data is downloadable or searchable.
    • Internal searches do not always return relevant results.
    • Jargon and legalese are prevalent on the different domains.
    • Interfaces change with each domain and are not easy to use.
  • Executive
    • Conflict of Interest statements could not be located.
    • Pension benefit information for the governor is not published.
  • Legislative
    • Personalized emails for senate and assembly members is not published.
    • Conflict of interest statements were not found for any members of the Senate or California Assembly.
  • Lobbying
    • State lobbying for the legislative and executive branch, such as governor's associations, could not be found.
    • The database of lobbyists doesn't include California government sector lobbying.
    • Agency lobbying contracts could not be located.
  • Public records
    • Not every agency lists contact information.
    • Could not locate any compliance reports for fulfilling public records requests.

U.S. PIRG rating

The U.S. PIRG rated the state website a "D-" on providing online access to government spending data, with a score of 49 out of 100.[37]

The scorecard that U.S. PIRG uses has 13 items and focuses on a separate state website that is searchable at the checkbook level. Sunshine Review, on the other hand, focuses on the availability of separate spending-related items; they do not need to be in a central database.

Item Possible points Notes
Checkbook-level website 30 Detailed expenditure information, including individual payments made to vendors.
Search by vendor 8 Ability to search checkbook-level expenditures by contractor or vendor name.
Search by keyword of activity 8 Ability to search checkbook-level expenditures by type of service or item purchased, category, or government fund.
Search by agency or departments 8 Ability to search checkbook-level expenditures by branch of government.
Contract or summary information 10 A copy of the contract or detailed summary information is included for the expenditures.
Historical expenditures 5 Checkbook-level expenditure data from previous fiscal years.
Grants and economic development incentives information 10 Awardee-specific grants and/or economic development incentives are included in the checkbook tool or elsewhere with specific award amounts.
Downloadable 3 Information can be downloaded for data analysis.
Tax expenditure reports 10 The state's tax expenditure report is linked on the website.
Off-budget agencies 2 Expenditures from quasi-public agencies are included on the website.
City and county budgets 2 Financial information for some local governments is accessible.
ARRA Funding 2 A link is provided to the state's website that tracks funding related to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Feedback 2 Website users are capable and encouraged to give feedback about the site.

There are several similarities between the checklists. For both checklists, the searchability of information factors in to how usability is rated. Both checklists have an item relating to contracts, tax information, and the budget. The U.S. PIRG requires information for quasi public entities; Sunshine Review requires information on lobbying, which includes quasi public entities lobbying activity.

Unlike the Sunshine Review checklist with each check worth one point, different items on the U.S. PIRG checklist merit more or fewer points, depending on the item.

Municipal Bond Default Probability

The California State Treasurer's Office has commissioned a San Jose State University economist and a government-bond research group, Public Sector Credit Solutions, to develop a default probability model for city bonds. Unlike symbols issued by rating agencies, the model will generate numeric scores quantifying the likelihood of default. [38]

State Integrity Investigation

The 2012 State Integrity Investigation graded state ethics laws according to an "Integrity Index." The index was created by researching 330 "Integrity Indicators" across 14 categories of state government. The report assigned grades based on what laws are on the books, and whether or not they were effectively enforced. The report was a project of The Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity, and Public Radio International.[39]

California received an overall grade of B-, or 81%. It ranked 4 out of the 50 states.[40]

Category Grade
Public Access to Information D-
Political Financing B-
Executive Accountability B-
Legislative Accountability C
Judicial Accountability C-
State Budget Processes C-
State Civil Service Management C+
Procurement B+
Internal Auditing A
Lobbying Disclosure A
State Pension Fund Management C
Ethics Enforcement Agencies B
State Insurance Commissions B-
Redistricting A

Transparency legislation and news

Main article: California transparency legislation and transparency headlines


  • In December 2011, a Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled that the California Assembly must disclose budget records of individual lawmakers, handing a victory to newspapers that filed a lawsuit accusing legislators of flouting the state's open records laws.The Los Angeles Times and McClatchy Newspapers sued the legislative body after records requests by The Times, the Pasadena Sun and the Sacramento Bee were all denied.[41]
  • SB 8, passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 4-1 vote, would require more transparency in higher education. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Leland Yee.[42]


Approximately seven different bills were proposed in 2009 regarding transparency legislation.

  • Senate Bill 106 sought to add school districts, community college districts, and county boards of education to the definition of a local agency whose officials must receive ethics training on subjects such as open records laws. The bill was introduced on March 4, 2009.[43]
  • Senate Bill 218 sought to make the records of non-profit organizations associated with state agencies and universities subject to the Open Records law. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Leland Yee, who stated that "Taxpayers and students deserve to know how their public universities are run". [44] The bill was amended and sent back to the Senate's Judiciary Committee on April 27, 2009.[45]
  • Senate Bill 502 proposed requiring state agencies and departments to develop a searchable web site relating to the expenditures of state funds. The bill was referred to the Senate's Governmental Organization Committee in March of 2009.[46]
  • Senate Bill 719 proposed state agencies and departments to develop and maintain a searchable web site that included information relating to expenditures of state funds including contract grants, purchase orders, subcontracts, tax refunds, rebates and credits. The bill was referred to the Senate's Appropriations Committee in April of 2009.[47]
  • Assembly Bill 400 sponsored by Assemblyman Kevin de Leon proposed requiring public disclosure of state spending by all departments. It was referred to the Committee on Appropriations in April of 2009.[48]
  • Assembly Bill 520 proposed allowing superior courts to issue protective orders limiting the number and scope of requests a person can make under the California Public Records Act if the court determines that the requester is seeking the records for an 'improper purpose' (including, but not limited to, harassing employees of state agencies).[49]
    • The bill has received wide criticism, particularly for failing to define the term 'improper' with any specificity.[50] The California Newspapers Publishers Association wrote a letter to Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter expressing their opposition to the bill and stating their position that "public access decisions must be made based on the law's presumption of access" and that "agencies must never be allowed to determine whether or not to comply with a request based on whether the request is for a use approved by the agency (i.e., a good use)".[51]
  • Assembly Bill 1194 proposed requiring state agencies and departments to develop and maintain a searchable web site that included information relating to expenditures of state funds. The bill was referred to the Business and Professions Committee in April of 2009.[52]
  • The Governor has vetoed Legislation designed to make the reporting of contracts more detailed and available showing actual consultant dollars per year.


See also: California state government salary

According to 2008 Census data, the state of California and local governments in the state employed a total of 2,256,634 people.[53] Of those employees, 1,584,459 were full-time employees receiving a net pay of $9,043,021,107 per month and 672,175 were part-time employees paid $969,357,807 per month.[53] More than 55% of those employees, or 1,257,074 employees, were in education or higher education.[53]

A recent investigation revealed that 199 public employees in the Los Angeles collected more than $250,000 annually in total compensation. Most of the employees were physicians, but there were also a significant amount of emergency service personal and public officials earning high salaries.[54]

The SEIU recently approved a contract which would reduce pay for 95,000 public employees in California by 5 percent. The deal was struck in order to secure pensions for its members. The union also agreed to increase member contributions to their pensions by 3 percent, which was less then the 4 to 5 percent Gov. Schwarzenegger had negotiated with other unions. The union's concessions are expected to save the state $383 million.[55]


See also: California public pensions

California (Sunshine Review) has several public pension plans. The California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) is a $216 billion fund[56] that covers state employees and retired teachers/administrators and is the largest public pension fund in the country.[57] California public schools are covered by the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS).

A study by the Pew Center for the States revealed that while the states' plans are more than 80% funded, the state has failed to consistently make the required contribution and thus created a funding decline from a $9 billion pension surplus in 2000 to a $53 billion unfunded liability in 2007.[58]

Role in FY2011 Budget

Gov. Schwarzenegger insisted that the new budget pare pension benefits for newly hired state workers to pre-1999 levels as part of any budget agreement.[59] The governor was successful, as the FY2011 state budget creates a two-tier system that scales back pensions for newly hired workers.[56] In addition, the budget includes new reporting requirements that CalPERS must justify the need to the governor, state treasurer and Legislature when it needs more money from taxpayers.[56]

In FY2011, the state will pour $3.9 billion into CalPERS, an additional 18% increase from FY2010.[56]

Public Records

See also: California sunshine lawsuits

The California Public Records Act (CPRA) is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of governmental bodies in California (Sunshine Review). Statutes 6250 - 6270 define the law.

When the law was passed, the California legislature prefaced it by saying, "...access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state".

The California Open Meeting Act (also cited as the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act or the Ralph M. Brown Act) legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted. Statutes 11120-11132 define the law.

To learn more about how to make a public records request in this state, please see: California FOIA procedures

Other transparency resources

Resource Run by Includes Year URL
Secretary of State State Lobbying and campaign finance 2011 http://cal-access.ss.ca.gov/
Recovery State Tracks federal stimulus funds 2011 http://www.recovery.ca.gov/
Department of Finance State Budget info 2011 http://www.dof.ca.gov/
Reporting Transparency in Government State Information regarding Statement of Economic Interests, Form 700 and Travel Expense Claim Forms readily available to the public. 2011 http://www.transparency.ca.gov/default.aspx
Pacific Research Institute California School Finance Center Education data at district and state level. 2010 http://schoolfinancecenter.org/
Follow the Money The National Institute on Money in Politics Campaign contributions 2010 http://www.followthemoney.org/database/state_overview.phtml?y=2010&s=CA

Transparency advocates

See also: California transparency advocates


  • Californians Aware is a 501(c)3 "established to help journalists and others keep Californians aware of what they need to know to hold government and other powerful institutions accountable for their actions." According to the organization, its mission is to "support and defend open government, an enquiring press and a citizenry free to exchange facts and opinions on public issues." The organization's main goal is to be a "center for information, guidance and initiatives in public forum law."[60]
    • Community Forum: The organization's community forum is a site where website visitor can communicate with others on topics regarding access to public meetings, access to public records, access to court proceedings, as well as other open government issues. Additionally, the community forum is also the location in which CalAware Watchdogs can communicate or ask questions.[61]
    • Audits: The organization audits various state agencies and grades them based on their compliance of information requests. As of March 2010 available audits include: 2009 Sacramento Area Public Education Audit; 2007 Law Enforcement Audit; 2007 Law Enforcement Audit - Follow-Up; 2006 State Agency Audit.[62]
    • Watchdog Training: Californians Aware offers "watchdog training," a network of individuals that act as the "eyes and ears of CalAware on the local level."[63]
    • NOVA Awards: The NOVA Award is granted to individuals that "lead by example through their independent efforts to increase transparency and accountability in local and state government throughout California."[64]
  • First Amendment Coalition is a nonprofit public interest organization dedicated to advancing free speech, more open and accountable government, and public participation in civic affairs. The Coalition acts locally, statewide and nationally. Founded in 1988 as the “California First Amendment Coalition,” the organization in 2009 shrunk its name to "First Amendment Coalition." The change, the organization said, confirmed their expanding role, and acknowledged the declining relevance, in the internet era, of state borders to many First Amendment issues.[65]
  • First Amendment Project is a nonprofit advocacy organization focused on "protecting and promoting freedom of information, expression, and petition."[66]

Blogs and Forums

See also: California blogs

...more blogs can be viewed here.

External links


  1. 2013-2014 Proposed Budget, Accessed: Feb. 14, 2013
  2. Historial budgets, Accessed: Feb. 14, 2013
  3. Enacted budget, Accessed: Feb. 14, 2013
  4. Department appropriations, Accessed: Feb. 14, 2013
  5. Historical Data, Accessed: March 9, 2013
  6. 6.0 6.1 Executive and Legislative salaries, Accessed: Feb. 14, 2013
  7. Contact us, Accessed: Feb. 14, 2013
  8. About the Governor, Accessed: Feb. 14, 2013
  9. Board and Commission appointees, Accessed: Feb. 14, 2013
  10. Upcoming elections, Accessed: Feb. 14, 2013
  11. Overall California Legislative Information, Accessed: March 9, 2013
  12. Governor's Press Releases, Accessed: March 9, 2013
  13. California Assembly Members Directory, Accessed: Feb. 21, 2013
  14. California Assembly Committees, Accessed: Feb. 21, 2013
  15. California Senate Committees, Accessed: Feb. 21, 2013
  16. Assembly member salaries, Accessed: Feb. 21, 2013
  17. Bill Information, Accessed: Feb. 21, 2013
  18. California Senate Directory, Accessed: Feb. 21, 2013
  19. California Senate Salaries, Accessed: Feb. 21, 2013
  20. Enforcement Closure Letters, Accessed: Feb. 21, 2013
  21. Ethics State Training, Accessed: Feb. 21, 2013
  22. Filing an ethics complaint, Accessed: Feb. 21, 2013
  23. Department wages, Accessed: Feb. 14, 2013
  24. Tax Expenditure Reports, Accessed: Feb. 14, 2013
  25. Audits, Accessed: Feb. 14, 2013
  26. Directory of State Internal Audit Organizations 2010, Accessed: Feb. 14, 2013
  27. State Contract Index, Accessed: Feb. 21, 2013
  28. California Procurement Division, Accessed: Feb. 21, 2013
  29. Eprocurement, Accessed: Feb. 21, 2013
  30. Secretary of State, Lobbying Activity, Accessed: Feb. 24, 2013
  31. California Grants, Accessed: Feb. 27, 2013
  32. Lobbying Activity, Accessed: March 9, 2013
  33. State Agencies, Accessed: Feb. 26, 2013
  34. California Public Records Act, Accessed: Feb. 26, 2013
  35. California Assembly Appropriations Committee, Assembly Daily File, Accessed: Feb. 26, 2013
  36. Video on Demand, Accessed: March 9, 2013
  37. US PIRG, Following the Money: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data, March 14, 2012
  38. Herald Online, California State Treasurer's Office Commissions Municipal Bond Default Probability Model, Dec. 5, 2012
  39. "50 states and no winners," State Integrity Investigation, StateIntegrity.org
  40. California Corruption Risk Report Card, State Integrity Investigation, StateIntegrity.org
  41. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/dec/05/local/la-me-budget-ruling-20111205 Assembly must disclose budget records]
  42. "California moves closer to greater transparency for its higher education" Central Valley Business Times March 29, 2011
  43. Status of SB106
  44. Fresno State case leads to push to add open records, Fresno Bee, March 3, 2009
  45. Status of SB 218
  46. Status of SB 502
  47. Status of Senate Bill 719
  48. Status of AB 400
  49. Text of AB 520
  50. SFBG Politics Blog, Blocking California's sunshine: Proposed legislation would limit access to public information, April 27, 2009
  51. California Progress Report. Legislation Would Allow Courts to Gag Public Records Requestors, April 21, 2009
  52. Status of 1194
  53. 53.0 53.1 53.2 2008 California Public Employment U.S. Census Data
  54. LA Times, 199 L.A. County workers made at least $250,000 last year, Oct. 5, 2010
  55. New York Times, Largest Calif. Employee Union OKs Pension Changes, Nov. 9, 2010
  56. 56.0 56.1 56.2 56.3 The Sacramento Bee "Budget gave Schwarzenegger a win over CalPERS" Oct. 12, 2010
  57. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named fury
  58. Pew Center on the States "The Trillion Dollar Gap" Feb. 2010
  59. MoneyNews.com "Schwarzenegger Seeks $2 Billion CalPERS Loan" Aug. 23, 2010
  60. Californians Aware,"About page on website," retrieved March 21, 2010
  61. Californians Aware,"Community Forum," retrieved March 21, 2010
  62. Californians Aware,"CalAware Audits," retrieved March 21, 2010
  63. Californians Aware,"Watchdog Training," retrieved March 21, 2010
  64. Californians Aware,"NOVA Awards," retrieved March 21, 2010
  65. First Amendment Coalition,"About," retrieved March 21, 2010
  66. First Amendment Project,"About," retrieved March 21, 2010
  67. Pacific Research Institute,"About," retrieved March 21, 2010