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In the Interest of Full Disclosure

Jon Ralston’s column this morning is on an issue which is important, though not very sexy. It’s on Nevada’s ridiculously flawed campaign finance reporting requirements.

Now, I’m a purist on this issue. I don’t think anyone should have to disclose campaign donations publicly. I came to that conclusion back in 1996 when a donor to my state senate campaign suffered retaliation at the hands of my opponent who was then the state Senate Minority Leader.

But I’m practical enough to know that my way ain’t gonna see the highway. So if we’re going to have disclosure at all, we ought to do it right. And that means, in this day and age, full and prompt disclosure on the Internet. Which means reporting all contributions all the time within a reasonable time period. The generally accepted window these days is 48 hours. Hardly onerous.

Ross Miller, Nevada’s Secretary of State, put forward a bill this session amending the state’s disclosure laws to bring them into the 21st century – including a requirement that candidates file their campaign finance reports online. Incumbent legislators who are well-funded by special interests and lobbyists, however, are balking at this effort at greater transparency. Go figure.

Miller’s reforms should be adopted. And incumbents who oppose them should be held accountable next year at the ballot box by voters. However…

I have a PAC (political action committee) and once tried filing my report online. And I gotta tell you, it was a royal pain in the you-know-what. The process set up by the Secretary of State’s office is decidedly not user-friendly and unduly complicated to navigate and complete. No wonder so many candidates, PACs and ballot advocacy groups opt to simply fill out the forms by hand.

Miller is on the right track pushing for online reporting, but he also needs to get his own house in order. It shouldn’t be too difficult to allow campaigns using, say, Quikbooks, to import the required information directly into the campaign reporting system at the SoS’s office instead of having to type it out separately a second time.

In other words: Secretary, heal thyself.