House passes bill easing electronic campaign disclosure rules

A bill that breezed through the state House last week (Friday) easing a requirement for some political candidates to file financial disclosure documents electronically, weakens transparency, according to the head of the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

APOC Executive Director Paul Dauphinais says allowing candidates to continue filing with pen and paper hampers public access to financial disclosure information, even with the requirement that those documents be posted online.

“I would submit to you that this does hinder transparency to the public,” Dauphinais testified to the House State Affairs Committee last Thursday. “Essentially you’re looking at a photograph. It’s difficult to compare; you are requiring people to print out or make notes. I would also submit to you that by not using the new system – which is up and ready to go and running – those people who file that way have much more control over their data. There is a self-check mechanism in that program. It identifies for you any errors that were made. Did you not put in the name and occupation of a contributor who went over the threshold for that to be reported? That finds it for you.”

House Bill 311 was approved on a 35 to 1 vote. It allows candidates with no computer or broadband Internet at home to file with pen and paper.

Anchorage Representative Mike Hawker says the bill does not alter the amount or type of information candidates must submit to the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

“It’s so important to us, in our duties here, to disclose our information – these campaign finance activities – to the public. That transparency is critical in maintaining the credibility of the public process,” Hawker says. “But in doing so, we must be very cautious that we do not become so overly proscriptive that we discourage, or even prevent any Alaskan, anywhere in the state from seeking public office.”

The 2007 Comprehensive Ethics Reform Act put the electronic filing requirement on the books, though it hasn’t been enforced. Municipal candidates in communities with a population of less than 15-thousand people are already exempt from the rule. APOC will also grant an exception to candidates who have an emergency or who don’t intend to raise or spend more than 5-thousand dollars during their campaign.

House Bill 311 also delays the timeline for the electronic reporting requirement until next year. Some legislators have had problems with APOC’s online system.

The bill was fast-tracked through the House. Anchorage Representative Les Gara was the only member to vote no.

It now heads to the Senate.