New laws to require candidates and PACs to file financial reports online | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

New laws to require candidates and PACs to file financial reports online

Posted By on Tue, Mar 21, 2017 at 5:31 PM

click to enlarge REP WARWICK SABIN: Lead sponsor of HB 1010. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • REP WARWICK SABIN: Lead sponsor of HB 1010.

On Monday, the Arkansas House of Representatives gave final approval to a bill by Rep. Warwick Sabin (D-Little Rock) that will require political action committees and other entities to file financial reports electronically. The bill was sent to Governor Hutchinson on Tuesday.

Earlier this session, the governor signed House Bill 1427 by Rep. Jana Della Rosa (R-Rogers), which established electronic filing requirements for candidates for public office. Sabin's HB 1010 extends that requirement to PACs, exploratory committees and independent expenditure committees.

Spending by PACs and independent expenditure committees can have a major impact on elections, and donations to such entities can allows donors to circumvent both ceilings on campaign contributions and prohibitions on accepting money from corporations. Subjecting PACs and others to the same disclosure rules as candidates is essential to getting an accurate picture of who's giving to whom in the political world.

click to enlarge Rep. Jana Della Rosa - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Rep. Jana Della Rosa
Taken together, the new laws aim to increase transparency in Arkansas elections by creating a searchable electronic system for public use. Candidates — and committees — could continue filing on paper only if they attach a notarized affidavit declaring they do not have access to the necessary technology.

We've previously written about Della Rosa's bill in detail. Currently, candidates in Arkansas may file their campaign contribution and expenditure reports on paper, despite the existence of an online option. The secretary of state's office scans the submitted forms and makes them available online — but only in non-searchable PDF form. In 2016, Della Rosa won an appropriation to create a new, streamlined online filing system with software already in use in many other states. HB 1427 and HB 1010 will ensure that candidates and PACs must use that system — assuming there won't be widespread abuse of the technology hardship provision, that is.

The 2017 legislative session has been a bad one for open government and transparency. Members of the General Assembly have proposed around two dozen bills that would create exemptions to Arkansas's Freedom of Information Act, some small and some large. Amid those efforts to chip away at the FOIA, it's encouraging to see passage of two bills that would give the public greater access to records rather than less.

Unfortunately, attempts to shine light on even murkier regions in Arkansas election spending have not been successful.

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