Saturday, August 30, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Less Transparency

Harrisburg fails to keep up with candidate financial report filings; just another way in which transparency in politics is being disregarded.

Less Transparency

Just in time for Tuesday's Primary Election, Harrisburg is making sure the political process is less transparent than it ought to be.

As voters -- at least those interested enough to care about who drives policies that impact lives across the state -- decide on candidates for fall elections, state officials have blown the chance to help provide key information on campaign funding.

The public advocacy group Common Cause points to what it calls "a gaping lack of PA campaign finance disclosure" for candidates running for office.

That's because a majority of those running continue to file required campaign-finance reports on paper rather than electronically. Federal candidates must file electronically, and voters can see their campaign contributions almost immediately.

But not only does the state system allow paper filings, which then cost taxpayers an estimated $50,000 a year for state workers to put into a computerized system, it also badly delays reports being available to voters online.

Common Cause says, for example, that for 372 candidates on the ballot for the 203 House seats, fewer than half of required reports are viewable.

So who knows who's giving to whom? Who knows how much special-interest money from school voucher advocates or the shale industry or the state store unions is being poured into campaigns?

Also, as Patriot-News columnist Heather Long wrote Sunday, hundreds of reports legally due in mid-March and mid-April aren't available, including those in top state races.

Here, in part, is what she wrote.

"Take the attorney general race. The matchup between Democrats Kathleen Kane and Patrick Murphy is arguably the hottest race in the state — and certainly expensive.

Yet if you go online to look up their campaign finance reports, you can see the March filings, but no April reports. It’s even worse for state auditor general and treasurer races.
There are no 2012 reports available at all for auditor general candidates Democrat Eugene DePasquale or Republican Frank Pinto — not even their March filings. (Republican candidate John Maher, however, does have both of his reports up).

For treasurer, the only reports available online are for `Friends of Barbara Hafer.' Yes, you read that right. Hafer, who was last in office in 2005, isn’t running. Don’t bother looking for the reports of the two actual candidates."

This is the same administration whose top officials say they'll find millions of dollars to make a new voter ID law work in order to promote and protect the purity of the election process.

Be nice if they'd start by requiring online, on-time financial filings to promote and protect public transparency.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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