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States Lead on E-Filing, Will the Senate Catch Up?

by and PolicyFellow and

It seems our Senators have a thing or two learn from their home states when it comes to campaign finance reporting: 31 states currently require mandatory electronic reporting ("e-filing") of their elected representative's campaign finance records -- a leap above our Senate, which has failed to pass no-brainer e-filing legislation for over a decade.

Sunlight conducted a review of the current state of similar filings in the states (see chart below), and the results are pretty surprising -- in a great way.

State governments across the country -- 92% of them, in fact -- require at least optional, if not mandatory electronic filing for both houses of their bicameral legislatures. (For what it’s worth, Nebraska, our only unicameral state, is even included in that number, though e-filing is only optional, not mandatory there.)

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As mentioned above, of the 46 states with some measure of electronic filing provisions, 31 either require e-filing or have thresholds above which paper is no longer an option. Most of these thresholds are modest (Tennessee and New York, for example, allow paper filings for those who raise/spend less than $1,000) or demonstrate some consistencies that may correlate to the cost of state-level campaigns (Georgia, North Carolina, and Washington have $5,000 thresholds; Rhode Island, Oklahoma, and Nevada have a threshold of $10,000) -- except for the Garden State. New Jersey only makes electronic filing mandatory for those who raise/spend above $100,000. Still, at least Jersey candidates not meeting the $100,000 requirement trigger have the option of registering online (and, hopefully, use it).

There are only 4 states that have no option for electronic filing of campaign finance reports: Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Vermont (!). But these outliers shouldn’t be clinging to their paper and scanners for too much longer. Although some states have had e-filing measures on the books for years, more and more are newly emerging. The most recent convert was in May 2013, when Alabama announced the launch of a new online campaign finance system to make candidates’ lives easier, reduce burdens on the state, and increase Alabamians’ access to public information -- all through the power of electronic filing.

Electronic filing removes the delays, price tag, and redundancies of translating paper filings into electronic information (its ultimate destination anyway) and gets public information into the public’s hands faster. The Senate would be wise to take a page not just from its federal peers who already require electronic filing, but from their roots, and should choose to voluntarily e-file this Monday.

Sunlight Policy Intern Justin Lin contributed to this post.