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After months of pressure from open government advocates, the California Secretary of State's office has made a mountain of campaign finance data available online.

While the secretary's office already puts some data online, the information had been broken up into discreet, separate filings. Anyone seeking to get all the information in a single digital forum had to request a CD-ROM.

Transparency watchdogs like Common Cause argued that system made it difficult to search through and organize the voluminous amounts of campaign finance and lobbying data that flows through the secretary of state's office. Secretary of State Debra Bowen pushed back, arguing that the process of putting that amount of data online would be overly costly and time-consuming.

Now Bowen's office has reversed its stance, putting the raw data online. That will make it easier to plug information on political money into sophisticated databases able to find trends and patterns.

"Following the money in politics and government is essential for making informed decisions at the ballot box," Bowen said in a press release. "The Secretary of State website is always evolving to ensure that everyone, from the occasional user to the information technology expert, can obtain public information in the way most useful to them."

Phillip Ung, a policy advocate for the California branch of Common Cause, called the change a "stark improvement," saying it "brings full access to behind the scenes raw data."

"We're always happy whenever a public agency is willing to embrace the 21st century," Ung said.

PHOTO: Secretary of State Debra Brown presents her argument during a legislative hearing on Tuesday, March 13, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling


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