The Flathead Valley’s Leading Independent Journal of Observation, Analysis, & Opinion. © James R. Conner.


28 May 2012

Memo to MT Political Practices: put the amended campaign finance reports online

Scroll to the bottom of the image below and you’ll see this disclaimer: “This service offers a view of the original report only. Contact our office for amended versions of the reports.” I have no idea how long the disclaimer has been there. I didn’t notice it before today because it never occurred to me that Montana’s political practices commission would do something so irresponsible.

This is not a trifling matter. Correcting a campaign finance report requires filing an amended report. In my experience, most errors are minor mistakes that don’t significantly distort the original report. But not always. And without reviewing the amended report, there’s no way of determining how much confidence one should have in the original report’s accuracy.

Is keeping amended reports offline an exercise in political chicanery? Probably not. The workers at Political Practices are most likely trying to expedite getting the original reports online. That’s understandable. But it’s not acceptable. And it’s shameful, a black stain on transparency in government.

Don’t expect changes for the better anytime soon. And don’t expect elected officials to be the agents of change.

Montana’s paper based system of campaign finance reporting slow walks campaign finance reporting. That’s what both major political parties want. They see no political advantage to rapid and full disclosure of where their candidates get their campaign cash.

Reform is purely an issue of political will and courage. There’s no technological barrier to having a realtime, online database of campaign finance reports. A savvy high school student could design one. And I’m sure that off-the-shelf solutions exist that can meet Montana’s needs with little or no modification. Smart, purposeful people could get a web based solution up and running by Labor Day.

But that won’t happen. In fact, nothing will happen — ever — unless citizens compel change through a ballot initiative.