SACRAMENTO, Calif. -

Four candidates vying to be the next secretary of state are offering competing visions for improving access and transparency to California elections.

Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla of Los Angeles on Wednesday debated Pete Peterson, a Republican policy institute director, on who had the best background for the job.

Two other candidates - Derek Cressman, a Democratic political reform activist, and Dan Schnur, a professor running as an independent - called for separation of money and politics in the forum hosted by the Sacramento Press Club.

The statewide office responsible for elections and campaign finance is being magnified this year by recent scandals in the Legislature. Democratic candidate Leland Yee dropped out abruptly after he was arrest on federal corruption charges.

Each of the reform-minded candidates touted their expertise in overhauling the office's election records and campaign database.