State budget cut-backs that started in the closing days of Gov. Rendell's second term are resulting in fewer campaign finance reports being posted on the Department of State's web site. And that has Common Cause, a good government watchdog group, worried that a new loophole is being created that can be exploited to avoid scrutiny of political contributions.
The problem: candidates and political action committees [PAC] can file their campaign finance reports -- there are seven reports required by state law due during 2011 -- electronically or on paper. The Department of State has outsourced the data entry work needed to put some of the paper reports available on-line and uses in-house staff for some of the work.
As a result of the budget cut-backs, which started in September, the posting on-line of PAC reports is slowing down, according to Kevin Murphy, a spokesman for the Department of State. "However, the department is working on inputting the reports as available resources permit," Murphy added.
Here's why that worries James Browning over at Common Cause: A savvy PAC could realize that filing reports on paper will mean less scrutiny. Browning says his group is sympathetic about the budget cuts causing the problem. But he also worries that the Department of State web site doesn't say that some reports are not being posted.
"So you don't know if you're missing a big piece of the puzzle," Browning said.
The web site does note that anyone wishing to view campaign finance reports can visit the Department of State in the North Office Building next to the Capitol in Harrisburg. That's about 100 miles west of Philadelphia. Safe travels.