Money For Nothing, Fix for Free
This weekend, The Charlotte Observer’s editorial page advocated for what sounds like a boring-as-hell change to the state’s campaign finance law. A bill (HB919) calls for campaigns and political action committees with finances above $10,000 to file their finance reports electronically, because filing them by paper makes for a lot of unnecessary work:
More than half the state’s 170 lawmakers have filed paper reports for the 2014 campaign season – reports disclosing campaign donations and how the money is used. Those too-often-illegible reports have the effect of obscuring long after the election who sought to curry the favor of legislators through donations. Lawmakers are effectively shielded from adequate public scrutiny with these paper reports.
So, good. If the bill passes, paper reports and costly data entry by an understaffed State Board of Elections go away. Allegedly.
I say allegedly, because right now, there’s no good way to submit reports electronically. The state had contracted with a software company, SOE, to create a program that would allow campaigns to do what HB919 is calling for. But, as we reported in May, the state never got the software it paid for:
Another issue, however, was a $1 million payment to SOE in 2011 for a software application that would allow campaigns and political action committees to submit finance reports online. The software, which was an effort to reduce the amount of clerical work at the board of elections office, was never delivered, according to the state. [Board of Elections spokesman Joshua] Lawson said state law actually prohibits the board for paying for such software up front (a move that’s been scrutinized by state auditors), and the deal with SOE didn’t include a timeline for when the work would be completed.
The dispute over the software was just one of many reasons why the state said it dropped SOE as a vendor. SOE was also responsible for the state’s stellar election night reporting page, which disappeared after the dispute. The Board of Elections tried to upfit an old in-house version, which was glitchy and often displayed the wrong results during this year’s May primary.
But anyway, the state’s already spent $1 million that it wasn’t supposed to spend on a piece of software that, three years later, we may need but never got. If someone had been following the money then, it might be a lot easier to follow the money now.
h/t @underoak, pic: brooklyntheborough via Flickr