July 09, 2006
Putting contribution info online for city elections

Pardon me for saying so, but this is a complete no-brainer.

Houston's candidates and political action committees aren't required to file campaign-finance disclosures electronically, making the information more difficult to access and analyze, open-government advocates say.


In Houston, paper disclosure reports can be read, or copied for a fee, at the City Hall Annex. Scanned copies, which lack the search and sort capabilities of electronic databases, appear on the city secretary's Web site, www.houstontx.gov/citysec/index.html.

But campaign treasurers often submit hundreds of pages during an election cycle, some containing handwritten information - a system that complicates efforts to aggregate totals by individuals or industries.


Campaigns for People proposed several changes in Houston's system, including electronic filing of campaign-finance reports, as already is required of state and federal candidates.

Responding to Houston Chronicle inquiries, Mayor Bill White said last week that he supports that recommendation, which he said ought to happen "sooner rather than later."

"The more things we make accessible and usable, the better," he said. "The more accountability and transparency for campaign contributions, I think they're less subject to abuse."

Most City Council members and City Controller Annise Parker also support the idea.

Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck, who was elected to her first term last year, said an electronic process would make the disclosure system easier for candidates and the public.

"I was sort of stunned by how manual the city's process is," she said.

White said his staff will gather input from candidates and officeholders about how best to make the switch.

He voiced reservations about imposing computer requirements on poorly funded candidates without access to computers. He suggested the city might provide exemptions for such candidates, as the state does.

I have a hard time imagining any serious candidate not having access to a computer, but I suppose anyone who's that underfunded won't have much in the way of contributions to report anyway, so it's sort of a self-solving problem.

I can't think of a good argument against this. The fact that every elected official in Houston's city government except for Addie Wiseman and Pam Holm, who declined to give an answer, favors this says a lot. If you want to put in an exception for donations of less than, say $100, that's fine by me. Beyond that, the more information that the voters have, the better. Let's make this happen ASAP.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 09, 2006 to Local politics | TrackBack