Bills in Harrisburg aim for transparency, ease of registering to vote

Posted: April 19, 2013

HARRISBURG - Pennsylvanians could register to vote online, and get quicker access to data about who funds their legislators' campaigns and who spends money to influence policy-making in the Capitol, under a trio of bills passed unanimously Wednesday in the state Senate.

It's all in the name of government transparency and efficiency in a state that has made a big push over the last decade to be more open when it comes to open records.

The voter bill, sponsored by Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R., Lancaster), would let voters register online through a system developed by the Department of State, which oversees elections. A number of states already offer that option. "The idea is to make it easier . . . and to increase participation," Smucker said in a statement. He said it would also cut costs for counties.

A separate bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) would require all campaign-finance reports filed with the state to be submitted electronically. According to Pileggi's office, only about 35 percent of reports are filed electronically now, which can mean delays in posting the data online for voters and others to view.

Pileggi's bill would also require any candidate committee or political action committee that raises or spends $10,000 or more in a year to file additional reports, and would double to $500 the maximum penalty for late filing.

State Sen. Larry Farnese (D., Phila.) said, "This gets us closer to the calls for campaign-finance reform we have heard across the state."

A third bill, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson), would force lobbyists to report expenditures electronically - many now do so on paper - and would require the state to post the information on a public website within a week.

The bills now head for the House. It was not immediately known whether Republicans who control that chamber would support them.

Before 2006, critics ranked Pennsylvania near the bottom when it came to open records and transparency laws. Then the legislature passed the state's Right-to-Know law, which, though not providing everything transparency advocates wanted, signaled a sea change.

More recently, the state launched a website - www.pennwatch.pa.gov - that lists contracts and other taxpayer-funded expenses, including payrolls.


Contact Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934, acouloumbis@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @AngelasInk.

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