By Megan Poinski
Campaign finance reports in Maryland are getting more transparent and easier to search with the new campaign finance website launched this week by the Maryland State Board of Elections.
The new site replaces one run on outmoded software through a partnership between the state and the University of Maryland’s Center for American Politics and Citizenship. The site brings more ways for the public to search campaign finance documents, more comprehensive information about committees and slates, and up-to-the-minute information available from any computer on the Internet.
“I think everyone was chomping at the bit for this,” said Jared DeMarinis, director of the State Board of Elections’ Candidacy and Campaign Finance division.
During the 2011 General Assembly session, the State Board of Elections received $500,000 out of the Fair Campaign Financing Fund to put the new system in place. (The fund, which collects taxpayer contributions to finance gubernatorial campaigns, had only been used once for its intended purpose in almost four decades. In the same bill, the legislature decided this year to close off contributions to the fund.)
The site was developed by PCC Technology Group, a Connecticut-based company that has created similar campaign finance sites for Wisconsin and Connecticut. The company was awarded a two-and-a-half-year contract worth $897,275 at the June 15 Board of Public Works meeting.
The new site represents a streamlined campaign finance reporting system, which puts much more information at the public’s fingertips. DeMarinis said that the old system was put in place in 1999, and the technology was becoming outmoded. Campaign finance reports had to be manually uploaded to the website – meaning that as recently as last month’s municipal elections, a report sent to the Board of Elections late at night would not be available for public disclosure until the next day.
With the new site, reports are automatically uploaded. This means if a candidate waits until the dead of the night to file a campaign finance report, anyone who’s up late in front of a computer can read it immediately.
Other features on the new website include:
- Smarter search boxes. The search boxes for committee names will give you a list of choices from what you’ve typed in. This makes it easier to find every single fundraising committee a candidate has started, and makes typographical errors less likely to get in the way of finding information.
- More contact information. There are more places in the new system for contact information for different people involved with the campaign committee.
- Violation information. Now, any sort of violation information can be included on the same page as the information about a campaign committee. The old system posted this only when a committee was assessed late fees.
- Loans. Users can easily see who has loaned money to a candidate – not just made contributions.
- Slates. Information on slates of candidates is all on one page.
- Reordering data. By clicking on the headers in a search, users can organize data, much like on a spreadsheet. They can easily organize who gave the most to a candidate, or sort contributions by how the money was given.
- Flagging problems. Committees using the new system to report finances will see a red flag pop up on the screen to immediately alert them to any problems with their submissions – like forgotten names or telephone numbers.
All existing campaign finance data has been moved into the new website, DeMarinis said. The old site will remain active until January, when the next set of campaign finance reports are due.
The State Board of Elections will start offering training on how to use the new software on Dec. 12, targeting current and future candidates and fundraising committees. The training will be offered on several dates around the state.
“But once they get the hang of it, it’s an easier product to use,” he said.