Daily Court Reporter - News Proposed bill designed to bring transparency to local election campaign finances
Proposed bill designed to bring transparency to local election campaign finances
KEITH ARNOLD, Daily Reporter Staff Writer
The promise of transparency in government has been bandied about during the last several election cycles, both nationally and locally.
In keeping with the political movement, a bill that is designed to bring transparency to election campaign financing was reported out of committee in the Ohio Senate last week.
"The concept is pretty straightforward," Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson, said of Senate Bill 44. "This bill will update Ohio's campaign finance law to allow local entities to join a system that has operated smoothly for over 15 years.
"There is no good reason to deny the public the opportunity to view local campaign finance reports online when state reports are already available."
Existing Ohio law does not authorize Ohio county boards of elections to permit electronic filing, even on a voluntary basis, LaRose said.
Unlike the Ohio Secretary of State, which manages an online campaign finance reporting system for candidates and campaign committees that file with that office, local boards of elections are not authorized to do the same.
SB 44 would remove the paper-only filing requirement that still regulates political candidates and campaign committees that file with local boards of elections.
The lawmaker sponsored a similar bill during the 131st General Assembly of the Ohio Legislature, but it failed to clear the Ohio House of Representatives.
In addition to support offered by the League of Women Voters of Ohio and the Ohio News Media Association, SB 44 has garnered endorsements from the Ohio Association of Election Officials and Cleveland-based nonprofit OpenNEO.
Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials, told senators seated on the Government Oversight and Reform Committee that the bill would be beneficial to county election boards for a couple of reasons.
"By filing the reports electronically, the information contained in those reports will be immediately and much more easily searchable and accessible to the public," Ockerman said. "Reducing paper work for boards of elections will help us be more efficient and eliminate the hassle of dealing with many pieces of paper."
The bill would open the same database to county boards of elections, creating access to campaign finance reports for state and local candidates in the same place for those candidates who file electronically.
In the event the office sought by a candidate pays less than $5,000 annually, the candidate raises less than $2,000 or raises no more than $100 from any single donor, a candidate would be excluded from the online filing requirement.
OpenNEO Executive Director Jill Miller Zimon told senators three of the most populous counties in the state do not have campaign finance archives online. The counties she mentioned are Hamilton, Stark, and Lorain, which collectively serve more than 1.5 million residents.
"Most notably, however, not one of these ten counties posts data in machine-readable or searchable formats," she continued. "What SB 44 seeks to make standard for those county boards of election is the standard already in use at the secretary of state level of campaign finance reporting: Electronic submission of campaign finance records that is then machine readable and searchable through a very user-friendly database."
The House has yet to take up the measure, though Democrat Rep. Emilia Strong Sykes of Akron already has signed on as cosponsor of the bipartisan bill.
Sykes joins 13 senators to cosponsor the measure.
Date Published: March 22, 2017