Online campaign finance reporting
September 15, 2017 - See responses from Lansing city clerk Chris Swope and state representative Andy Schor at end.
Can you believe that campaign finance reports for local government offices in Michigan are done on paper? A candidate can download a program from the Secretary of State's website to prepare a report, but you cannot submit a digital report to the county clerk. You can email a PDF file, but this is essentially an image of the paper report. This primitive way of reporting has many drawbacks:
For state level offices, campaign finance reports must be filed electronically. They can be prepared with the MERTS program or with private software that creates files to Secretary of State specifications. On the Secretary of State's website, you can look up a candidate's campaign finance committee and then look at either the contributions or expenditures for that committee. You can specify time periods, contributor names, amounts, etc. And you can sort your results in various sequences. This is the screen used to request contribution information:
You can view the records you've requested online:
Or you can download a digital file that can be loaded into a spreadsheet program. That's how I got the information on contributions to Andy Schor's state representative campaign for this story.
Michigan Online Campaign Finance Reporting System
It should be possible to design a web-based program that allows candidate committees for state-level offices as well as local offices to enter information on contributions as they are received and expenses as they are incurred. It would be one-step recording and reporting. There would be no need to download a program or purchase software; the committee would just log on to what I will call the Michigan Online Campaign Finance Reporting System, or MOCFRS. Each transaction would be edited for errors such as exceeding contribution limits or failing to provide occupation and employer information for contributions over $100. Besides entering contributions and expenditures, the committee would be required to enter a transaction to finalize a report at close of books, before the reporting deadline. The system would notify the candidate if a report is not finalized by the deadline.
This would save counties a lot of money by relieving county clerks of the burden of processing and posting reports. If properly designed, it would make reporting easier for candidate committees. And since contributions and expenditures are recorded online, that information would be immediately available to the public. We could even require that contributions and expenditures be recorded within a week or two of being received/incurred.
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September 16 response from Lansing city clerk Chris Swope:
I supported the addition of Section 18a to the MI Campaign Finance Act (below) which was adopted in 2013. At the time it was hoped that the Secretary of State would make a system available to counties, which has not happened. The Secretary of State's program for state level candidates is not even made available to local candidates to use for paper reporting, so it is difficult for many local candidates to keep track of cumulative totals. I agree it should be relatively easy to make the existing software work for electronic reporting to counties.
I am not aware of any county which has adopted an electronic system.
169.218a Electronic filing and internet disclosure system; adoption by county clerk.
September 16 response from state representative Andy Schor:
I requested legislation last session to allow counties to utilize the state system. I met with the secretary of state’s office and they said that counties could do that now and to have any interested clerk talk to the state elections division. My understanding, in talking with county clerks, is that some have reached out to the secretary of state to do a pilot program, but none were taken up on their offer. So, as Chris indicated, this would be a good question and proposal for the Secretary of State. I agree that it is inefficient for local candidates have to do this by paper, especially when the state system exists and could be very easily utilized by county clerks that want to.