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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Pa. State and Local Campaigns: How to Follow the Money

A reader emailed me yesterday, asking where he can go to look at campaign finance reports. Though many of you know this like the back of your hand, I think it's safe to say that there are just as many who do not. At one time, we could count on periodic reports about campaign finance in the newspaper, but those days are gone. This is a new era of participatory journalism. If we can maximize the number of eyes looking at these reports, we can learn things that even the most jaded beat reporter might miss.

Filing Deadlines

It first helps to know helps to know when reports are due. For state and local candidates, the Pa. Department of State lists all the report due dates here. These basically consist of the pre-primary (4/15/16), post-primary (5/26/16), pre-election (10/28/16), post-election (12/8/16) and annual report (1/31/17). Some statewide row office candidates must also file sixth Tuesday pre-election and pre-primary reports.

For federal candidates, the FEC filing dates for 2016 are listed here. Presidential candidates must file monthly reports. Other federal candidates are required to file an April quarterly (4/15/16), July quarterly (7/15/16), October quarterly (10/15/16), Pre-election (10/27/16), Post-election (12/8/16) and year-end report (1/31/17).

On all levels, candidates are required to disclose donations made in the closing days of an election. This is something Northampton County candidates failed to do until a bottom-feeding blogger began complaining about it several years ago.

Federal Reports All Online

Federal reports are all online.at the FEC webpage ... Eventually. Senate candidates must file paper reports with the Secretary of Senate, and that can slow things down, especially for candidates who are afraid to reveal what is going on. I'm beginning to think I'll see peace in the Middle East befroe Allentown Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski's Year-End report ever appears online. But other candidates are more or less required to file electronically, which dramatically increases transparency.

State and Local Campaign Finance Reports

Candidates for state office (this includes state representatives and judges) must file campaign finance reports with the state Bureau of Elections and in their County of residence. The copies filed with the County elections office are often called courtesy copies, but Pennsylvania's election laws require that they be filed both on the state and county level, where the candidate resides. So Governor Wolf, who lives in York County, must file finance reports with the state and there.

Pennsylvania has an excellent online database of campaign finance reports, from the present and all the way back to the Year 2000. But most candidates file paper reports instead of electronic reports, resulting in a lag from the due date until the report actually appears.

Electronic Reports 

I've been ripping State Rep. Mike Schlossberg's campaign finances in recent days. But if truth be told, his is one of the few annual reports available for inspection. Most legislators file paper reports, knowing it won't be available for weeks.

Aside from Schlossberg, the other LV legislators who appear to file electronically are State Senator Pat Browne and State Representatives Justin Simmons, Dan McNeill, Ryan Mackenzie and Steve Samuelson.

Samuelson, incidentally, raised a grand total of $400 in 2015.

He must be worried about opposition.

State Senators Mario Scavello and Lisa Boscola and State Representatives Pete Schweyer, Marcia Hahn, Joe Emrick, Julie Harhart and Gary Day are less transparent and filed paper reports.

You'll just have to hurry up and wait.

A Watchdog report from 2013 excoriated this practice, which both denies public access and actually costs the state over $100,000 in each finance period to hire contract vendors to enter the data electronically.

Legislators may beat their chests and piously announce that the system needs to change.Yet they continue filing paper reports. It is time for our local legislators at least to set an example and start filing electronically.

What about those local reports?

State law does not require candidates seeking local office to file campaign finance reports with the state. But any candidate who raises or spends $250 or more in an election is required to file all the campaign finance reports I described above. These reports are filed with the County elections office, and are available for public inspection during regular business hours. There is no need to file a Right-to-Know, although the records must be inspected in front of elections officials to prevent anyone from tampering.

For those of you who work for a living, this is the same thing as no access at all.

For a time, Northampton County elections officials scanned and uploaded campaign finance reports for all local offices on the County website, but the project was too time-consuming and the practice ceased several years ago.

In Lehigh County, campaign finance reports for county offices only are loaded online and may be reviewed here. This modest reform was proposed by then Commissioner Dean Browning in 2009 and was passed unanimously.

In Bethlehem, then Council member Bob Donchez proposed the same thing in 2011, and his proposal was also adopted unanimously. You can see finance reports for all Bethlehem candidates here.As a bonus, they also include the Statements of Financial Interest that must be filed each year by elected officials.

Allentown has also been loading campaign finance reports for city offices online since 2010, and they can be viewed here.This was the result of some good government initiatives considered by the late Michael Donovan, Jeanette Eichenwald and former City Council President Michael D'Amore.

Lehigh County's online reports are excellently organized and uploaded in a timely fashion. In Bethlehem and Allentown, it's more hit or miss.Some reports are completely missing while others are actually the wrong reports. But they show an attempt to be transparent.

Geoff Brace is pushing a fresh look at campaign finance in Lehigh County, and I commend him for it. But as you can see, true reform must come from Harrisburg legislators, 2/3 of whom who mostly don't want you to follow the money, unless it is raised by an opponent.

To succeed, statewide campaign finance reforms should start very incrementally. Requiring all state reports to be electronically filed would be a start. The system is set up for that now, and would actually save money. A statewide database for all reports, both state and local, would be a logical next step.

10 comments:

Ron Beitler said...

Excellent post! - Thank you for pulling this together. Many know, but far more don't.

Anonymous said...

Eric Evans wanted to repeal Bethlehem's law!

Bernie O'Hare said...

That certainly seems out of character for him and I'd like to know his reason before reaching any conclusions.

Anonymous said...

in 2012, a Middle Smithfield Township Supervisor was sent to prison. Among the charges was that he falsified his required financial disclosure forms. The story I heard was that a FBI agent showed up at the Township Building and demanded to see the forms, which are supposed to be on file. Someone tried to keep him busy, while the Supervisor was in the back room filling out the forms. One of his problems was that he was using a paper form format that didn't even exist during the year he was supposed to have filed the disclosure.

First rule to avoid prison - never ever ever lie to the FBI.

That Supervisor was also violating many rules to get zoning approval for a strip club on his property.

Anonymous said...

Schlossberg is a bought & paid for political hack to say the least!

How is it that Rep Samuelson raises only $400 for all of 2015 yet Schlossberg raises $33,800 dollars from PAC's alone? Neither has any serious challengers (shame on republicans)???

Does Schlossberg do any real legislative work or send out letters begging for money all day long?

Anonymous said...

Bernie,
Another unaccounted campaign contribitor will never be mentioned on any print or campaign acconting process in the city with no shame¿!)$ This would be those benifactors of the grant grab get to give back criminality disorder ordered up by said coconsperitor no 3¿!)$ There has been many a flopp since the arrival of no 3 all now on the federal HUD roster for the trickle down effect as sublet rooming homes, hence palumpas double.dipp pension package proCUREment process¿!)$
I see poppa lukes double dipp cheesesteaks has allso left with hiZ fair share of the Z benifit as there iZ only one benifactor moving out on building another white box of chocklets¿!)$
redd for Republican
patent pending

Charlie Sch said...

There has been talk in the past of competitors for Rep. Schlossberg. One candidate had to drop out in the past when the Supreme Court required that a new set of House district maps be created right before the primary election. He has a Repub opponent this year.

Anonymous said...

schloss will be on a channel 10 Philadelphia news report tomorrow (Thursday) about ghost voting. it is a so called investigative report where he actually explains what he did , why he did it and the old idea that every one else does it and has been doing it for years is the excuse. cant wait to watch this worm squirm , but then again , it is NBC doing the report , so who knows.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bernie O'Hare said...

You offered nothing substantive in your comment. You just attacked someone's integrity without identifying yourself. I'm not going to allow you to smear others without saying who you are so the smeared party knows who to sue.