Arkansas is one of 17 states where electronically filing campaign finance reports is only an option, and that makes it harder for members of the public to track how candidates’ campaigns are funded, legislators were told Thursday.
Rep. Jana Della Rosa, R-Rogers, told the Electronic Filing Systems for Campaign & Finance Reports Subcommittee Thursday that Arkansas’ current system doesn’t allow the public to do searches or compare campaign reports, which can be found in pdf form online at the secretary of state’s website, votetnaturally.org. While individual candidates’ campaign finance reports are transparent, donor activities are much harder to trace.
“We want it so that the average citizen can go look up whatever they want to know. They should have a right to do that,” she said.
Della Rosa sponsored a bill this past session that would have required campaign finance reports to be filed online and would become available in a searchable database. The bill died in the House.
Among legislators’ objections were that rural legislators did not have access to high-speed internet services. On Thursday, Shelby Johnson, director of the Arkansas Geographic Information Systems Office, showed legislators maps detailing broadband capabilities. While little of the state is covered by the fastest fiber networks, most of the state is covered by other means. Wireless internet service is available almost everywhere, and satellite service is available everywhere.
Della Rosa told legislators that filing campaign finance reports involves small amounts of data that do not require the fastest high-speed connections.
Dr. Ginny Blankenship with the Bureau of Legislative Research said that, under current law, campaign finance reports can be hand-delivered, mailed, faxed or filed electronically in a readable format. About 60 legislators file electronically. Lobbyists’ reports must be e-filed.
Blankenship said at least 31 states mandate that campaign finance reports be filed electronically, while Idaho and Mississippi have no electronic filing. She said Alabama, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio and Tennessee – particularly Tennessee – have good electronic filing systems. Implementation costs have averaged $500,000 to $2 million per state, but perhaps Arkansas could purchase a system already being used elsewhere.
Blankenship said the public benefits by having searchable databases. Meanwhile, candidates benefit because an electronic system can have an intuitive interface that easily can be edited, can alert candidates about data input efforts, and can send email reminders about upcoming deadlines.
Afterwards, Della Rosa said her bill next year will include the creation of a new electronic filing system that would replace the current one, which can be glitchy and difficult to use. A good system can prevent legislators from being punished for honest mistakes, she said. She said in this year’s session, she focused mostly on how the public alone would benefit from an electronic filing system.
“I’m really looking for something that will benefit both sides, both the input for the users of it and the end users, the people of Arkansas, that want to pull information out of it and see, who’s donating to who in Arkansas?” she said. “Because right now, we are blind to that.”