Pennsylvania could go modern with new electronic filing measure

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May 25, 2012

By Maresa Strano


HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania: A bill aiming to shorten the 3-6 day delay Pennsylvania voters who wish to view candidates' campaign finance reports must endure after each report filing deadline has been gaining major traction in recent weeks, as evidenced by the unanimous approval it received by the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee on Tuesday. House Bill 2203, or the Culver bill, for its sponsor, State Representative Lynda Schlegal-Culver (R ), proposes a measure which would require all statewide and general assembly candidates to file their finance reports electronically. Under the current order, candidates have the option to submit their reports electronically, but only a select few - like 2012 candidate for auditor John Maher - take advantage of the feature, according to the Department of State Website,[1] which always warns those who visit the campaign finance homepage about the lag time.

"Keep in mind that some reports take several days to data enter, so check frequently for updates," it says, under the bolded heading questioning when the reports will be available online.[2]

Indeed, as of the primary election this year, which took place on April 24, several candidates' fundraising reports, from one or both of the previous rounds of reporting, were still in transit to online posting.[3]

In the opinion of the Culver bill's bipartisan fan base, which includes Governor Tom Corbett (who thinks it is a good idea but has not endorsed it formally[1]) adopting an e-filing protocol is a step in the right direction toward a more efficient, transparent, accountable government. Electronic filing will add the convenience of instantaneous public access to campaign finance information, and eliminate the inconvenience a voter may face when she heads to the polls on the first Tuesday in November with her fingers crossed that she will not regret her vote by Wednesday, when the report becomes available online.

Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, which advocates for transparent and accountable government, extended his support for the proposed reform, calling it "good news for the public, and long overdue."[1]

At first, a handful of legislators at Tuesday's hearing were skeptical about moving to an exclusively e-filing system. The concern was that while it would solve one problem - leaving the public hanging indeterminately - it could present a serious problem for older, less technologically savvy candidates and candidates who may not have easy, or any, access to the internet. Culver alleviated that concern by assuring the committee that the bill allows candidates to appoint a staffer to submit the reports. Furthermore, she made the case that phasing out the use of paper filing could save time, and a substantial amount of money. Estimates on how much e-filing would save the state range from $35,000[3] to $100,000[1] per election cycle.

After the bill's success with the State Government House Committee earlier this week, it will proceed to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for a vote.

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