It's time to make campaign finance filing all electronic

June 25, 2014 

The reason candidates must file campaign finance reports is to give voters a sense of who is backing the candidates. It also enables state elections officials to monitor compliance with campaign finance law.

But that essential transparency and accountability is being hampered by elected officials who slow the reporting process by filing paper rather than electronic reports. Among candidate and political action committees that are required to file reports, seven out of 10 file paper reports. And there are a lot of reports. In even-numbered election years, the state Board of Elections handles 8,000 to 10,000 reports. In odd years, 3,000 to 4,000.

The paper reports pile up at the state Board of Elections and the process for auditing bogs down. The reports are supposed to be audited within four months of their filing, but the Board of Elections says it can take up to seven years to audit all reports from an election cycle. The main reason for the delay is that state auditors spend 75 percent of their time keying in data rather than reviewing it.

Democracy North Carolina recently found that 92 of the 170 state legislators have filed paper reports during the current 2013-2014 election cycle. The preference for paper isn’t simply an issue of Luddite legislators. The Board of Elections’ software for filing reports can be cumbersome and some lawmakers find the paper reports easier.

Fortunately, the state House took action Tuesday to clear the backlog. Thanks to the support of House members David Lewis (R-Harnett), Skip Stam (R-Wake) and Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford), the House narrowly passed an amendment to a Senate bill that would require electronic filing by local and state candidates and political committees receiving over $10,000. The requirement would not take effect until 2017 and gives the state Board of Elections time to further improve its electronic filing system.

Now it’s up to the Senate to approve the legislation and move campaign finance reporting into the 21st century.

That shouldn’t be a problem, but apparently some senators prefer slow disclosure to timely disclosure. The House passed a similar measure last year by 115-1 only to see it stall in the Senate.

That electronic filing requirement should be approved by the Senate this session. Transparency delayed is transparency denied.

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