Sunday, February 11, 2007

 

Demand Electronic Filing of Campaign Finance Reports!

A recent article by Dan Morain in the Los Angeles Times – "Senators move donor disclosures at a snail's pace" (3 February 2007) -- about how US Senators evade timely disclosure of their campaign contributions has gotten me angry. I am in part angry because of the way the story hits my professional persona as a document engineer, but more of my anger comes from how this affects me as a citizen who cares about the democratic process.

There is nothing subtle about what's going on. A so-called Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act (BCRA), which took effect in 2002, requires that all political parties, campaign committees, and the like disclose where their money cames from. And of course every last one of these "reporting entities" uses computers to track their campaign contributors and maintain their required records. And of course, they all meet the filing deadlines for submitting these records to the Federal Election Commission because they want to give the appearance of complying with the law. But senators refuse to submit their quarterly records in electronic form. Instead, they each submit thousands of printed pages to the FEC, which then has to pay over a million dollars a year to get the information back into electronic form so that it can be made accessible.

You don't have to be a document engineer to realize how inefficient and error-prone it is to create information electronically, print it out, and then recreate an electronic form from the printed pages. When Morain"s article was
reprinted in the Baltimore Sun
it had a new title that made it sound as stupid as it is: "Bytes to paper to bytes to paper to bytes."

But this isn't about inefficiency in document processing. It is astonishingly negligent, dishonest, arrogant, and ought-to-be-illegal behavior. Senators (and anyone else) who files on paper are saying "screw the BCRA" and "screw the voters” and anyone else who'd like to know where they are getting their campaign contributions.

I contributed a lot of money during the last election cycle. If you have the patience to wait until the keypunchers catch up with the sleazy senators you will be able to look it up. But after this story I'm never going to give another dime to anyone who thumbs his or her nose at the disclosure requirements.

Are you listening, Hillary? Senator Clinton is singled out in Morain's story as being a prime nose thumber.

-Bob Glushko





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