Tracking political money in Pa. still a chore

     A test for the eyes - finding political donors in PA still often means poring over pages of PDF's or paper reports. (Dave Davies/WHYY)

    A test for the eyes - finding political donors in PA still often means poring over pages of PDF's or paper reports. (Dave Davies/WHYY)

    The task seemed simple enough: Make a list of donors to Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidates who gave $25,000 or more in 2013.

    I posted that information yesterday, but getting it took hours because Pennsylvania is still in the dark ages when it comes to getting legally required campaign finance information online and searchable.And there’s a reason for that.

     “Pennsylvania law allows candidates and campaign committees to file either electronically, or on paper,” said Ron Ruman, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of State.

    And if a candidate with hundreds of contributions and expenditures files his report on paper, the department has to send it to a private vendor to hand-enter the data for the state’s searchable campaign finance website.

    And guess how many gubernatorial candidates chose to file their reports electronically? None of them.

    Ruman notes that the state has actually improved the site, providing more user-friendly and sophisticated search capabilities. After a quick test drive, I agree. But it’s only valuable if the information gets into the database in a timely manner.

    As of Friday, three weeks after the annual reports for 2013 were filed, the reports for Gov. Tom Corbett and Democratic candidate Allyson Schwartz still weren’t in the database.

    Is there a fix?

    It couldn’t be simpler. We need a state law requiring all candidates and political committees to file reports electronically in specified formats.

    This is done lots of places. Look at candidates for Congress. Their information is on the Federal Election Commission website, downloadable and searchable in a jiffy.

    Montgomery County state Rep. Tim Briggs has made mandatory electronic filing a personal goal for a long time. It looked as if he were going to get it done two years ago, but the effort ran aground for a number of reasons.

    Some candidates said they couldn’t afford it. Others said they were in remote areas with no high speed Internet.

    None is a reason to keep us in the dark about who’s funding our campaigns, and when candidates file reports in a few months closer to the election, slow, clunky access to information isn’t that much better than no access.

    Briggs is a Democrat, which means he’ll need Republican allies to get electronic filing through the GOP-controlled House, and he’s working on that. It should help that Corbett favors electronic filing.Corbett was annoyed in 2010 when his staff found it difficult to search for contributors to his Democratic opponent, Dan Onorato.

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