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Simplifying transparency

Bill on the table by Mike Masterson | February 12, 2017 at 1:45 a.m.

Arkansas GOP Representative Jana Della Rosa of Rogers is offering a bill that would make reports of every legislator's campaign contributions and leftover funds available on a secretary of state website database.

House Bill 1427 passed the House State Agencies Committee last week and arrives bright and early Monday for a vote by the full House. If approved, the bill will move through the Senate, then hopefully to the governor, who can make it become a badly needed law for transparency.

Della Rosa tried unsuccessfully during the last regular session to push similar legislation (then HB1233) through the lower chamber. During the subsequent fiscal session, the House passed a $700,000 appropriation to purchase the new electronic reporting system.

We've been stuck with a method where candidates can electronically file their financial reports, but their cooperation isn't mandatory, which means some legislators choose to file their reports manually.

Such a hodgepodge reporting system makes the financial filing process incomplete and confusing since it doesn't provide for an Internet search engine that contains all the information in one easily-accessible place.

Della Rosa's bill is important to we the people because it's both reasonable, proper and downright common sense for this information to be reported uniformly and available to research.

The two-term District 90 representative explained: "To be clear, the campaign finance reporting system would not be searchable through the secretary of state's office. It has its own search function to find and review the data. But if all candidates don't participate by entering their campaign finance information into the system, the database is incomplete and of no use to those searching."

The new system as described in HB1427 would replace the archaic method we've been using since, oh, I dunno, probably the Civil War. But, although there's a limited exemption, every legislator also must be on board for it to be effective.

"If only a portion of candidates file their reports electronically, the database of information in the new system will continue to be incomplete," she told me. "So, my bill seeks to make electronic filing mandatory to ensure the new database is complete and usable."

Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen, a firebrand in his hometown when it comes to advocating for government disclosure, commended Della Rosa for her sustained determination in supporting transparency in the public interest.

McCutchen's right. Legislators who do the obvious right thing should be praised as least as often as they are criticized for falling short. This bill is one of those right things.

"Her bill finally would allow for a convenient search of all contributions made from a particular person to a state legislator, "McCutchen said. "As it stands, when reports are not electronically filed, they also are not available through most search engines, which means a manual search of every legislator's reports becomes necessary."

Yeah, I understand the excuses. Some legislators invariably will claim they're unable to file required reports because they aren't electronically sophisticated enough to do so. To those poor folks, I'd advise hiring most any teenager to do it for you. And you might ask if they'll train you while at it.

The bottom line is if we trust elected officials to serve us and conduct our business in an open and transparent way, they should be required to invest an hour or so to become trained here in 2017 where even cash is becoming obsolete.

"Both my business partner who's almost 60 and me at over 50 have become well-versed in using Internet search engines," said McCutchen. "It's far more tedious to search through the database manually rather than using an Internet search engine to find what we're looking for."

So here's hoping that when our representatives convene in the morning, they will look favorably upon moving forward in transparency and public service to us, the taxpaying voters across Arkansas.

"In my opinion, there are no valid arguments against it," said Della Rosa. "I've alleviated previous legitimate concerns since the last session and we've acquired the necessary equipment. The current system is unreliable, inaccurate, and cumbersome."

She's even made it possible in her bill to accommodate those who can't find that teenager to help lead them into the 21st century, or can't afford a laptop. Her bill allows such hapless officials to still opt for paper filing if they're also willing to complete an affidavit stating they don't have access to sufficient technology.

Lingering paper-filers will be noted by the secretary of state, "so we will know which reports must still be searched by hand," she added.

Asked why this bill mattered enough for her to not give up after last session, she said: "Because I believe the people of Arkansas intended campaign facts be transparent to them. Campaign finance reporting was established through initiated acts--which means it was something the people demanded. We have an obligation to provide the information they require in a manner usable to them."


Mike Masterson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at [email protected]

Editorial on 02/12/2017

Print Headline: Simplifying transparency


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