Government & Politics
10:40 am
Fri March 21, 2014

State Senator: Campaign Spending Could Be More Transparent With Better Software

A state senator is calling on the commonwealth to make campaign finance reports more readily available to the public, but some say what’s needed isn’t new software, but new law.

Pennsylvanians shouldn’t have to wait days or weeks to see online who’s donating to a political candidate, or how much a candidate is spending, said Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre) Wednesday. At a hearing with the Pennsylvania Department of State, he used the example of making a deposit in a bank.

“Go online and, ten minutes later, it pops up,” Corman said. “The technology’s out there for real-time reporting.”

He’s asking the State Department, which oversees the state’s campaign finance website, how much money is needed for a software upgrade to make reports available more quickly.

“I think it would be a worthy investment of the state, to get whatever software, whatever capabilities you need, to increase the amount of real-time reporting of campaign donations,” said Corman to the agency’s secretary, Carol Aichele.

But software might not be the biggest obstacle to more transparency in campaign finance.  

“The issue is paper filing,” said Ron Ruman, the State Department’s spokesman.

Electronic filing of campaign finance reports is not required in Pennsylvania, so there’s often a lag between when paper reports are sent in (often by mail) and when they’re posted online by the State Department’s contracted vendor.

Before an election, the last reporting deadline merely requires files to be postmarked by Friday afternoon. By the time the files are delivered and uploaded by a vendor, “it’s very common we get those Wednesday,” Ruman said – as in, after the votes have been cast in a Tuesday election.

Two proposals introduced in the House and Senate would require candidates and committees to electronically file reports on campaign contributions and spending. Both measures have stalled since being referred to the House State Government Committee.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Republican Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, passed the Senate last April. The House proposal, sponsored by Rep. Tim Briggs (D-Montgomery), hasn’t moved since last March.