Every time a campaign finance reporting date comes along and we truck on over to the Secretary of State's Office to be there for the 5 p.m. deadline, it strikes me that we should be able to get this stuff electronically.
Instead, candidates, parties and political action committees converge on Montpelier from all over the state, with paper in hand. Usually at 4:58 p.m. A handful of reporters and others geeks are on hand, waiting for copies. Staff run off the copies and lots of trees give their lives for the sake of democracy.
Mind you, it's a very congenial time. Elections Director Kathy DeWolfe points the way to the bathrooms and water cooler. Staffer David Crossman is a wizard of efficiency at handing over the documents.
But every time I wonder about the absurdity of people traveling hither and yon to give and get this information.
It is available online eventually, but not immediately and immediacy is key in our business.
DeWolfe said her office is looking into an electronic filing system, but they don't come cheap. She said she's heard prices from $350,000 to $1 million. And then, she pointed, out who's going to be willing to make that kind of an expense a priority? There are about seven people in the state who want the information that quickly.
And then it hits me. The only people willing to go in person at an inconvenient hour to get the information and disseminate it immediately are reporters. So the world does still need us. I'm down with that.
By the way, the Vermont Democratic Party didn't make the 5 p.m. deadline for filing the party's contributions and expenses. Staffers said someone was on the way at 5 p.m., but somehow it was going to take them a half-hour to get there, which suggests they were not quite on their way. There aren't really any consequences for being late other than the public humiliation of it (if somebody never files the AG's office could act on it, but a day late isn't going to prompt legal action). It does raise the question whether the party is walking the walk on transparency in elections.
On that front, candidates and parties can file these reports on a computer disk, which would speed the inputting process for the state, but they don't. Apparently, they fear that makes the information more readily usable for their opponents. Paranoia?
- Terri Hallenbeck
Labels: campaign finance, elections, Vermont