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PA pushes for reports of campaign money to be filed online

By   /   May 22, 2012  /   8 Comments

Could be in place by 2013

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — Campaign finance reports in Pennsylvania finally could be entering the digital age.

Candidates for all statewide offices and the General Assembly may have to submit their campaign finance reports electronically, a move that advocates say would reduce the time between filing deadlines and when the public can access the information.
It also would save money.
State Rep. Lynda Schlegel-Culver, R-Snyder, sponsored the measure, which was moved through the House State Government Committee on Tuesday with unanimous support.
The bill heads to the House for a vote, which could come in the a few weeks.
It’s a transparency issue for the public and the media,” Culver said, adding that it creates uniformity because all candidates will have to submit their reports the same way.
Candidates can submit their reports electronically now, but only about 30 percent do so, according to the state's Department of State.
Like income tax returns, the finance reports only have to be postmarked by the end of the day the day the reports are due. 
It takes a few days for the reports to arrive in the Harrisburg office, where they're opened by department staff, verified and sent to an outside vendor to be compiled for the website, said Ron Rumon, department spokesman.
That process takes three to four business days. 
The vendor has 72 hours to compile the data and enter it electronically, which then comes back to the department to be posted online.
As a result, the final round of campaign finance reports — which must be postmarked 10 days before the election — are sometimes unavailable online before voters go to the polls.
The entire process costs about $100,000 — mostly the result of vendor costs — which could be saved if paper reports were eliminated.
Rumon said Gov. Tom Corbett supports the concept of online campaign finance reports, but the administration has not endorsed the Culver bill.
Culver acknowledges that the costs are minimal, but still important.
With the current laws, the public can be left unaware about major contributions in the final days of a campaign, due to the time it takes to process the paper reports, said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, which advocates for transparent and accountable government.
“This will allow for instantaneous reporting, and that’s good news for the public,” Kauffman said. "It's a reform that is long overdue."
During Tuesday’s hearing, a few lawmakers expressed concern about the ability of older candidates, or candidates without access to the Internet, to meet the new requirement.
Culver said the bill includes provisions to allow candidates to appoint a staffer to submit the reports.
The bill would require all candidates for governor, state House, state Senate, auditor general, attorney general, treasurer and appellate court judges to submit reports electronically.
Political committees would have to follow the same rules.
The Federal Election Commission handles campaign finance reports for congressional offices; reports for local elected offices in Pennsylvania are under the jurisdiction of the respective county.