Disclosure system needs upgrade
State's D-minus grade for campaign finance reports far from satisfactory
Oregon has no reason to be proud of the D-minus grade it received in a recent evaluation of campaign finance disclosure practices around the country. And the response of legislators and the secretary of state's office ' to point fingers at each other ' does nothing to solve the problem.
The study, by the California Voter Foundation, the Center for Governmental Studies and the UCLA School of Law, ranked states for the effectiveness of their campaign disclosure laws, their electronic filing programs and the accessibility and usability of the online data.
Oregon got a B-plus for its disclosure law and a C-minus for its electronic filing program. Not exactly Phi Beta Kappa, but not awful.
It was the accessibility and usability of online data that earned the state a pair of Fs, dragging the overall grade down to a D-minus.
Secretary of State Bill Bradbury says the Legislature has refused to give his office the funding it needs to improve its online reporting system. Lawmakers say Bradbury should stop whining and find the money in his budget.
— There is some strong evidence favoring Bradbury's position. Washington state, which earned an A-minus and was ranked best of all the states, got &
36;700,000 from its legislature in 1999 to put its data online.
There is also reason to fault Oregon for its failure to do the same. Oregon law does not limit the size of contributions, something most states do. As a result, it is even more critical that voters have easy, rapid access to who is financing candidates' campaigns.
There is one bright spot in this picture. Oregon law requires campaigns with at least &
36;50,000 in activity to file reports electronically. Until this year, campaigns could easily get a waiver of that requirement. But a bill to allow continued use of that waiver failed to pass the Legislature this session.
So more information will be filed electronically beginning next year. But what the secretary of state's office will be able to do with that data without additional funding is hard to say.
Bradbury and his staff should do what they can to improve the online system, even if it means diverting some resources from other programs. Every state department is having to do more with less.
At the same time, in the interest of giving voters the most up-to-date, accurate information possible, the Legislature should find some funding at its earliest opportunity.
Unless lawmakers would rather the public didn't know where their campaign funds come from.
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