Online filing could be mandatory for Oklahoma politicians

Monday, November 22nd 2004, 5:50 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Politicians may have to file their campaign finance reports online in 2006.

Most state politicians still file their campaign reports on paper, even though the state spent $80,856 to implement a new Internet-based system.

Currently, someone who wants to access a campaign finance report not filed on the Internet must go to the basement of the state Capitol to review stacks of reports.

Under a proposed change, all it would take is access to the Internet to check most reports.

``They don't have to drive to Oklahoma City or order copies from us that take time to mail,'' said Marilyn Hughes, Ethics Commission executive director.

The Ethics Commission considered making electronic filing mandatory this year but put that off so system glitches could be worked out.

Ethics Commission Chairman Ken Elliott resurrected the idea last week.

``If it works, I think the sooner we can get it in operation the better off all of us will be,'' said one member, John Raley. ``We need to get it under way.''

Under the proposal, a state candidate or political action committee must file electronically once the candidate or PAC raises or spends $20,000.

The Ethics Commission will vote on the proposal in January. It would go into effect Jan. 1, 2006, unless rejected by the state Legislature.

``If you're going to require electronic filing, it needs to work or you're going to be embarrassed,'' attorney Lee Slater warned commissioners last week.

Slater regularly represents politicians in matters involving the Ethics Commission.

Only about 60 politicians and 60 PACs have used the current system to file their reports electronically.

Major improvements to the system are planned next year.

``It is our goal to provide completely accessible sites and services,'' said Mark Mitchell, YourOklahoma director of marketing and portal operations.

Twenty-one states have mandatory filing for at least some candidates, according to a national study.

Oklahoma is one of 17 states that have a voluntary filing system.

The state got a C- this year in a comprehensive, comparative study of campaign finance disclosure laws and practices in the 50 states.

The study, however, found the quality of Oklahoma's campaign disclosure Internet site had improved significantly.

Oklahoma had mandatory electronic filing before, but the Legislature repealed it in 1998.

The current system costs the Ethics Commission $1,314 a month to maintain.

Rep. Mike Reynold, R-Oklahoma City, says the current system is not easily navigated.

``It's a failure,'' Reynolds said. ``If it worked, the candidates would be using it. ... I would invite the public to go to the Web site and attempt to access any candidate's document and see if it's efficient.''

Before he was a legislator, Reynold lost a bid to have the Ethics Commission use his software system.