The Senate State Agencies committee this morning unanimously passed a bill by Rep. Jana Della Rosa (R-Rogers) that would shine a light on the campaign finance records of candidates for elected office.
House Bill 1427 would require candidates to file their monthly contribution and expenditure reports electronically, rather than on paper. At the moment, Della Rosa told the committee, “about half of us choose online” and half choose to file by paper. Paper documents make it much harder for citizens to track donations made to political campaigns, since they are not searchable. As a practical matter, that means it’s impossible to get a comprehensive sense of who has donated to whom in Arkansas politics, since doing so would require compiling information from thousands of documents in a single election cycle.
The House previously passed Della Rosa’s bill by a large margin, and its approval by the committee this morning bodes well for its chances in the full Senate. If signed into law, the requirement would go into effect this July. Similar legislation sponsored by the Rogers lawmaker died in 2015.
The secretary of state’s office has already paid for the creation of a new, streamlined online filing system, which Della Rosa said is “far superior” to the current online system. The software behind the new system is already in use in many other states, she added.
The bill also includes an exemption for candidates to continue to file on paper if they sign an affidavit asserting a lack of access to technology. In 2015, some rural legislators claimed online filing would be too difficult because of limited internet access in their communities. “I could not get it through the House if I did not have this exemption,” Della Rosa said. She argued that the public would hold officials accountable if they claimed a technological hardship without good cause. “If you’re somebody who does have good internet service, I don’t think you’re going to be able to make that argument,” she said.
If a candidate claims a technological hardship and files by paper, he or she would then be required to keep doing so for the rest of that election cycle. The rationale is that a searchable online system only gives an accurate picture of a campaign’s contributions and expenditures if it contains a complete record for the cycle; piecemeal financial information would be misleading, Della Rosa argued. “Just to keep it clean, you have to be either in or out.”