Have you ever wondered where candidates for state offices get their money for political campaigns?
Beginning today, the South Dakota Secretary of State’s office will put campaign finance reports on a website where the public can monitor where public office seekers are getting their money and how much.
The website at sdsos.gov goes live today, although there won’t be much information available until candidates start filing their 2011 campaign reports on Feb. 1. The public then will be able to search by candidate and donor for campaign finance information.
Before today, all the public had access to were scanned images of the paperwork filed by candidates. That made it very difficult to track who was giving out the most money to candidates and to whom the money was going.
Secretary of State Jason Gant said the new website will make it easier on politicians by allowing them to submit campaign donations online instead of filing a paper report. The website will even manage the campaign finances of candidates by automatically adding up receipts and expenses. If a candidate makes a mistake or reports an illegal donation or submits a report without all the required information, the website will give an error message.
Gant said candidates still could file campaign reports by mail, if they prefer, and his staff will transfer the data to the website.
The Secretary of State’s office paid the $17,000 cost of setting up the website by shifting costs around.
The creation of a website to track political donations and donors is a leap forward toward transparency in campaign financing.
However, state lawmakers could use the website to improve the state’s financial disclosure reporting requirements. The reason the data won’t be available until Feb. 1 is because state law sets that date for filing financial reports for the previous year. Now that the Secretary of State’s office has an electronic filing option available, why not change state law to require quarterly or monthly campaign finance reports? And why not require more frequent financial reporting prior to primaries and general elections?
The more the public knows about where political candidates are getting their donations, and how much, and who is donating to candidates, the better our political system will be.
We applaud the Secretary of State’s new website for accessing campaign finance reports, and we hope state lawmakers take advantage of the technology to require more timely filing of financial disclosure reports.