New Campaign Finance Reporting System Hurting Public Access to Accurate Information

More than $303,000 in contributions, expenses wrongly identified in two committee reports

February 5, 2009

Madison - A new electronic campaign finance reporting system is generating inaccurate fundraising and spending reports for some state candidates and political committees, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign has found.

In two instances $178,454 in committee contributions and other income and $124,815 in staff wages, office supplies and other expenses were attributed to the Government Accountability Board in campaign finance reports filed this week by the State Senate Democratic Committee and the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee – two prolific legislative fundraising committees.

The board is the state’s ethics, elections and campaign finance law enforcement agency that launched the new filing system last fall, not the source of the committees’ contributions or expenses.

In two cases, contributions downloaded from earlier campaign finance reports filed by Democratic Assembly candidates Dan Kohl and Chris Buckel did not match the contribution totals listed on reports generated by the new system for the candidates.

In addition to the erroneous reports, WDC has heard numerous complaints in recent weeks by legislators and others who claim the system is difficult to use and its launch was ill-timed – in the middle of a busy election year.

Campaign finance reports produced by the new system also may list incorrect or old information for contributors because the system’s database automatically supplies contributor addresses after a filer types in the contributor’s last name rather than requiring the filer to enter the information they have about the contributor.

The new system also compounds erroneous contributor information. When a candidate gives the system’s database incorrect information about a contributor it will continue to appear that way in subsequent candidates’ reports unless it is corrected.

Currently, the new system does not provide year-to-date contribution totals for those who give multiple contributions.

The campaign finance reports also are likely to inaccurately identify the occupations of contributors because filers are required to choose from a list of occupational codes that does not always have options that accurately describe the occupations of some contributors.

Finally, users of the new system are not required to file traditional paper copies of their reports with the board that could be used to check and back up electronically filed reports.

“This new system was supposed to make the reporting of campaign fundraising and spending easier and enhance public access to this information. But the way it is working today, it is doing the opposite. In its current form, it represents a step backward,” Democracy Campaign director Mike McCabe said.