State officials seek to replace Arkansas’ ‘clunky’ ‘obsolete’ electronic campaign finance system
Since its deployment in 2017, Arkansas’ computerized system for tracking political campaign contributions and expenses has drawn criticism from candidates, elected officials and the public.
Among the objections whispered privately or said outright at public meetings: “https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/dec/05/state-officials-look-to-replace-arkansas-clunky/”pas friendly , “https://www.arkansasonline.com/ news / 2021 / dec / 05 / state-officials-look-to-replace-arkansas-clunky /” inexact, “https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/ 2021 / dec / 05 / state-officials-look- to-replace-arkansas-awkward / “antique”.
Now state lawmakers and the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office are taking steps to procure a new computerized system at an estimated cost of $ 750,000 to $ 1 million, in the hopes that it will be easier to use for applicants and everyone.
The planned new system, however, is not expected to be in place until the general election in November 2022. This means that candidates and the public have more than a year to coexist with the flaws of the current system.
These flaws include errors and omissions in the data, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette found while downloading and reviewing more than 650,000 campaign contributions and expenses over the past four years.
The secretary of state’s office and lawmakers are calling the problems with the current campaign finance ranking system problems, and the problems are not secret.
The proposed new campaign finance ranking system “will it be more user-friendly than the current one?” Rep. David Fielding, D-Magnolia, asked at a Nov. 16 meeting of the Arkansas Legislative Council review subcommittee, which was considering the secretary of state’s proposal.
“I certainly hope so. It couldn’t be less computer friendly – I’ll put it that way,” said Kurt Naumann, director of administration and government relations for the secretary of state’s office.
State Senator Mark Johnson, R-Ferndale, who sponsored the bill calling for a new campaign finance ranking system, spoke of the difficulties with the current system.
He heard constituents say, âI tried to look for something and I couldn’t make the head or the tail of it. He also hears about misinformation.
âI really believe that with the problems and the glitches in the existing system, there are a lot of inaccuracies that you can’t fix,â Johnson said in an interview.
Some of the errors and other issues that emerged during the journal’s review of the uploaded line-by-line data on campaign contributions and expenses:
â¢ More than $ 1.7 million in mostly unified donations to Arkansas’ 2021 campaigns for governor were incorrectly listed this fall as coming from Maine residents. This “problem in the system” which involved 72,592 entries was initially incorrectly corrected to show money coming from the Arkansans, according to a spokesperson for the secretary of state’s office.
The office later acknowledged that the current campaign reporting system does not allow candidates to enter a home state for unified contributions – which are donations under $ 50. So the system has been corrected again, correctly, to show no status designation.
â¢ Users interested in a political candidate or race cannot download this specific data. The only option is to download all contributions to state races for a calendar year.
For 2021 so far, that’s over 390,000 rows of data, a lot of information to sift through for a casual viewer looking for a candidate or a low-cost competition.
â¢ Information on contributors to political action committees was spotty. When the newspaper noticed that some contributions were missing for 2017, the seller restored them. Later, the newspaper found still missing contributions for political action committees for other years.
â¢ Individual contributions appear incorrect or overestimated for more than one campaign the newspaper has scrutinized. One issue is with refunds, which aren’t captured in the uploaded data, according to the secretary of state’s office. This means that some campaign donations and totals are overestimated.
For example, downloading data from the current system showed that one candidate received $ 5,000 each from several different contributors. The PDF documents in the system for this candidate, however, provided a different picture: the contributors initially gave $ 2,500 each, the campaign refunded this money due to an error, and then the same contributors each gave 2,500 each again. $.
SHORT TERM SOLUTION
For decades, every state has required applicants to declare where they get their funding, according to Pete Quist, deputy research director for OpenSecrets, a nonprofit that tracks money in state and federal politics.
This is true “because financial support for political campaigns is universally recognized as essential to having an informed electorate,” Quist wrote in an email. “And having an informed electorate is essential for an informed and accountable democratic government.”
Arkansas law since 2017 requires state candidates to file campaign finance information electronically, rather than on paper, with the Secretary of State. Until this year, the law listed only two exceptions: lack of access to technology and significant difficulties.
Johnson’s Bill, now Law 1029, removed the two stated exceptions, instead requiring a notarized affidavit on a form prepared by the Secretary of State’s office. The new law does not say what the affidavit may authorize. Currently, the “Affidavit for Paper Filings” lists the same two difficulties that were previously in the law.
It is not clear whether the language change will affect the way candidates choose to file campaign finance reports. Most of the state’s candidates won’t run until early next year. So far, only a handful have indicated their intention to file campaign finance information on paper, according to the secretary of state’s office.
Among them is Representative Lane Jean, R-Magnolia, who said his office was “down the country, on the farm. It was not a reliable internet.”
âI’m pretty glad I didn’t,â he added, âbecause I think a lot of people have had issues.â¦ I don’t know if they have all of the bugs fixed.â
Regarding the potential of his new law to make filing on paper easier, Johnson said: âI saw this as a short-term solution. My tendency would be to think that I would work to repeal this, once we have a good new one. system in place. “
A BETTER MODEL
Arkansas’ campaign finance reporting system aims to record contributions to all candidates for state office, including detailed information for each donation over $ 50, specifying the contributor’s name, contribution amount, address and date.
Returns quickly become more complicated as candidates are not required to accept donations that exceed state limits or violate election laws. (The limit this year for individual donors is $ 2,900 per candidate, per election).
Applicants must also file expense information. In addition, political action committees and other groups are required to file similar reports.
The current campaign finance reporting system contains PDF copies of documents that users can print or store, but they are not searchable by computer without specialized software. The system also provides line-by-line data for contributions and expenses that users can download to their computers as spreadsheets for searching, sorting and analyzing.
Despite its difficulties, Arkansas’ current campaign reporting system was a step forward for the state.
In 2014, Arkansas was one of the last states in the country not to require digital political contributions and expense claims.
Researchers and citizens curious about political money must have looked at hundreds or thousands of pages, sometimes handwritten, sometimes illegible.
Former Rep. Jana Della Rosa, R-Rogers, sponsored a 2015 bill that sought to require candidates to file campaign finance reports into a computer database that then existed. Governor Asa Hutchinson supported the idea.
Her first effort failed, but Della Rosa was successful in 2017. It was also at this time that the state implemented the current computerized filing system at a cost of $ 763,820. The start date was October 1, 2017.
The tender attracted only one supplier, PCC Technology Inc. of Connecticut, according to secretary of state’s office spokesperson Kevin Niehaus. A well established supplier in the field, “They were the only company that responded that could do it on time.”
Installed under then Secretary of State Mark Martin, “it was not a system that we necessarily liked or were delighted with,” Niehaus said. Current Secretary of State John Thurston has also “not been a fan” of the system and has favored a new one.
âThe search capability is a bit heavy. I would just say it’s not user-friendly,â Niehaus said. “This is the biggest gripe we have heard and the feelings we share as well.”
With the passage of Johnson’s bill this year, Thurston’s office is now circulating a Request for Proposal (RFP) among lawmakers, seeking their comments by December 15. The hope is to solicit bids on a new system by Christmas, Niehaus said.
âThere is no point of the finger,â Johnson said of the problems with the current system. “It’s kind of a Model-T, and now there is a better model available.”
âThey did what they couldâ in 2017 to create the state’s current system for filing state campaign contributions and spending, Johnson said. “They did it with what was available. It is now clear that this is outdated and tedious.”