Legislature passes bill changing electronic reporting rule

Alaska lawmakers yesterday (Wednesday) passed a bill exempting political candidates who don’t have a computer or Internet access at home from the state’s electronic campaign disclosure requirement.

House Bill 311 also delays implementation of the rule for one year – until February 2013 – and prevents the Alaska Public Offices Commission from changing reporting requirements during a campaign cycle. A Senate amendment exempting anyone who has previously filed under different reporting requirements did not make it into the final bill.

By passing the legislation on Wednesday, lawmakers were trying to avoid costly fines for being out of compliance with the rule. Yesterday was the deadline for candidates to file year-end disclosure reports for 2011 and year-start reports for this year. Several lawmakers have complained that APOC’s electronic reporting system is slow, cumbersome, and hard to use.

Anchorage Republican Representative Mike Hawker says the bill also fixes deficiencies in the reporting requirement that could prevent some people from running for office.

“The bill makes certain that every Alaskan has an equal opportunity to run for office. It makes certain that we don’t have a technology test, a literacy test. It makes certain that we don’t impose a wealth requirement; we don’t disenfranchise the more impoverished people in our community,” Hawker says. “And it also makes certain that we don’t disadvantage rural and pioneer lifestyles, by saying that if you don’t have an Internet connection, you can still run for office and file reports. We don’t make you go out and get an Internet connection in order to run for office.”

Members of the Public Offices Commission came out against House Bill 311 on Tuesday, saying it would reduce transparency. APOC Executive Director Paul Dauphinais was already on record with his staff’s concerns.

Under current statute any candidate can apply to the commission for a waiver from the electronic reporting requirement. Candidates for municipal office in communities of less than 15-thousand people are automatically exempt from the rule.

Lawmakers mandated electronic reporting in 2007 in response to a federal corruption probe that ensnared some members of the legislature. However, it hasn’t been enforced while APOC was working to get its online system up and running.

Dauphinais says the agency has spent about 1.5-million dollars on the system. Lobbyists have been required to submit disclosure documents electronically for over a year. Political advocacy groups are also being required to submit their reports online.

House Bill 311 now heads to Governor Sean Parnell for his signature.