Covering politics in North Carolina and beyond, VoterRadio.com is streaming 24 hours a day. Listen live or on-demand.
N.C. lawmakers should take a step forward on transparency in elections
By Brent Laurenz
Published: May 21, 2014
The General Assembly is officially back in Raleigh for the 2014 legislative short session and they have several big-ticket items on the agenda.
Additionally, all 170 seats in the body will be on the November ballot, which is an incentive to finish up business quickly for many lawmakers running in competitive districts.
However long they end up staying in town this summer, there are a couple of bills up for consideration that would go a long way toward improving transparency and disclosure in our campaign finance system.
To the average voter, it sounds simple enough.
People can do their banking, pay bills, buy clothes and perform a thousand other daily tasks online, so it stands to reason that candidates should be able to file their campaign finance reports electronically as well.
Campaign finance issues are not typically top of mind for the average North Carolina voter, but knowing who is funding campaigns, or who is funding outside interest groups, is extremely important.
Voters should have the full picture of how campaigns are funded before going into the voting booth, but at present it is very difficult for the average person to access that information.
Citizens might be surprised to find out that in 2014, the vast majority of political candidates in North Carolina do not file campaign finance reports electronically. Many even continue to submit handwritten versions.
Such disclosure reports allow the public to see who is funding campaigns, but currently it takes an expert, or someone with the time to sift through hundreds of scanned images of the reports online, to decipher what the reports really mean.
One bill pending in the N.C. Senate could lead to vast improvements though. House Bill 919 would require all statewide candidates who raise or spend more than $5,000, and all other candidates who raise or spend more than $10,000, to file their campaign finance reports electronically with the board of elections.
To the average voter, that sounds simple enough. People can do their banking, pay bills, buy clothes and perform a thousand other daily tasks online, so it stands to reason that lawmakers and politicians should be able to file their campaign finance reports electronically as well. If they were required to do so, voters would have a much easier time discerning how campaigns are being funded and by whom, which would help them make more educated decisions at the polls.
Another bill up for consideration in the N.C. Senate would increase transparency around independent-expenditure groups and how they are funded. These outside groups often spend vast sums of money to influence elections in our state, but the source of that funding can be murky at best, especially without frequent disclosure reports. House Bill 918 would require such entities to file campaign finance reports in a more timely fashion, giving the public a much clearer idea of who is funding the organization.
Both bills passed the N.C. House in 2013 with overwhelming bipartisan support, which is a rarity in today’s polarized political climate. During the short session, the Senate can pass the bills through its chamber and send it to the governor for his signature.
Doing so would send a clear message that transparency in our government is important not just to voters, but to the decision-makers in Raleigh as well.