Pennsylvania budget cutbacks crimp posting of campaign-finance reports

Posted: February 19, 2011

State budget cutbacks that started in the closing days of Gov. Ed Rendell's second term are resulting in fewer campaign-finance reports being posted on the Department of State's website.

And that has Common Cause, a good-government group, worried that a new loophole is being created that can be exploited to avoid scrutiny of political contributions.

The problem: Candidates and political-action committees can file their campaign-finance reports - there are seven reports required by state law due during 2011 - electronically or on paper.

The Department of State has outsourced some of the work needed to make the paper reports available online and uses in-house staff for some of the work.

As a result of the budget cutbacks, which started in September, the posting online of political-action committee reports is slowing down, according to Kevin Murphy, a spokesman for the Department of State.

"However, the department is working on inputting the reports as available resources permit," Murphy added, estimating that about 2,000 paper reports have not been put online so far.

Murphy said the state received about 2,500 reports for two campaign-finance deadlines, Dec. 2 and Jan. 31. About 1,600 of those reports were filed on paper.

Here's why that worries James Browning at Common Cause: A savvy political-action committee could realize that filing reports on paper will mean less scrutiny from the public.

Browning says his group is sympathetic about the budget cuts causing the problem. But he also worries that the Department of State website doesn't say that some reports are not posted.

"So you don't know if you're missing a big piece of the puzzle," Browning said.

The website does note that anyone wishing to view campaign-finance reports can visit the Department of State in the North Office Building next to the Capitol in Harrisburg. That's about 100 miles west of Philadelphia.

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