Go back to Tracker -- Winter 1998
Electronic Filing Update
Project Director, Center for Governmental Studies
It has often been said that technology has a life of its own. This is certainly true in the field of electronic
filing and disclosure of campaign finance reports. The era of computer systems and the information highway has catapulted
almost all states toward digitizing their systems of campaign finance reporting within the last few years. Only three
states: Georgia, Nevada and South Dakota, have expressed little interest in developing a system of electronic reporting.
The movement toward permitting candidates and committees to file financial reports electronically, through
either diskette, modem or the Internet, and to disclose these reports to the public and press electronically, is a North
American phenomenon. The movement appears to have caught hold so far only in Canada and the United States.
In Canada, one province (Ontario) has developed a fully operational system which includes both voluntary
electronic filing via diskette and Internet access for the public. Elections Canada (federal) and Manitoba have nearly
operational systems, while Alberta and British Columbia are studying the issue.
In the United States, 15 jurisdictions have fully operational systems which include the means for both
electronic filing and electronic disclosure, up from eight jurisdictions just last year. These jurisdictions include three
cities: New York City, San Francisco and Seattle. About a dozen more states have nearly operational systems.
Hawaii, Oklahoma and the city of Seattle have embarked on new ground. They are the first jurisdictions to permit
candidates and committees to file through the Internet. Many jurisdictions have been reluctant to allow Internet filing of
reports, due to security reasons. However, jurisdictions are not so timid about disclosing campaign reports to the public
through the Internet. Currently, 24 jurisdictions provide or are planning on providing public access through the Internet,
up from 15 last year.
Most electronic reporting systems are voluntary, with only four jurisdictions mandating electronic reporting for
most candidates and seven jurisdictions mandating electronic reporting for upper-level candidates and allowing voluntary
electronic reporting for others. It is reasonable to expect a trend toward mandatory systems once the technology proves
It is often assumed that legislatures will usually offer intense political resistance to developing a system of
instant public access to campaign financial records. Indeed, many of todayıs press accounts emphasize the political
resistance to change in public disclosure. A Minneapolis Star & Tribune editorial, analyzing the slowness of the
federal government to implement a comprehensive electronic reporting program, stated that the reason "of course, is
political. There is no great groundswell among members of Congress to make their campaign books instantly accessible
to critics, challengers -- and the public."
In the year since this editorial was printed, the Federal Election Commission has in fact gone online with many
of its campaign financial records. And political resistance in the states, though frequently present, has generally not
succeeded in slowing the momentum toward electronic reporting. Legislatures throughout the nation -- either willingly
reluctantly -- have approved bills calling for electronic reporting (although Illinois, Utah and Vermont passed such
but then declined to fund the programs). In some states where legislatures have refused to act, state elections agencies
have gone ahead with developing electronic reporting without any statutory authorization. The program is simply too
efficient and cost-effective for any elections agency to deny.
One point is very clear: The notion that "there is not much out there" in the area of electronic reporting is a
Craig Holman can be reached at (310) 470-6590, ext. 115, or send e-mail to Holman@aol.com.