Election campaign finance reports in Kalamazoo County to go online under Michigan pilot program

Election campaign finance reports in Kalamazoo County to go online under Michigan pilot program

From MLive

KALAMAZOO, MI — Kalamazoo County residents interested in viewing campaign finance records of local elected officials will soon have online accessibility to those reports.

Kalamazoo County was recently selected by Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to be one of two counties to participate in a pilot program that will offer electronic campaign-finance reporting for local candidates and ballot questions.

While the public already has access to campaign finance reports of statewide candidates through the Secretary of State’s website, reports filed by local candidates for office in Kalamazoo County can only be viewed by going to the county clerk’s office and looking at paper filings.

Candidates for government office are required to file pre-election and post-election reports on campaign contributions and expenses. The pilot program, which will also be offered in Macomb County, seeks to increase transparency by making the statements more readily available, said Fred Woodhams, a spokesman in Johnson’s office.

“Currently, some clerks do offer reports in a PDF version, paper reports that are online,” Woodhams said. “The goal with this program is to provide that level of transparency and accountability that the public has come to expect at the statewide level.”

The program will also allow candidates for local office to file their campaign finance reports electronically, as opposed to turning in hard copies to the county clerk’s office.

Woodhams said there wasn’t a specific reason that Kalamazoo and Macomb counties were selected for the pilot program, although he noted that Johnson wanted to work with two larger counties to ensure any bugs could be worked out before launching the program statewide.

“They were just identified as larger counties and counties we have worked with in the past,” Woodhams said of Kalamazoo and Macomb. “They seemed like good candidates with clerks who might be interested.”

Kalamazoo County Clerk Tim Snow said he was excited to be selected.

“I haven’t heard much about it, but I understand it will be very similar to what is out there on the state’s website,” Snow said. “I think they know I have an interest, so I was glad to be asked to participate.”

Snow said his office is currently working on a separate system that will allow the public to search past campaign finance reports of active candidate committees. He said the state’s program allowing users to access current reports should “complement this project nicely.”

Woodhams said one benefit of the program is that it be done entirely online and won’t require clerks to purchase new software. He said he was unsure how the public will ultimately access the database, but it’s likely that the main page would be hosted by the state and would be linked to on individual county websites.

At Tuesday’s Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners meeting, commissioner Julie Rogers, D-Kalamazoo Township, applauded the pilot program, calling it “long overdue.”

“I am very pleased that Clerk Snow is partnering with our Secretary of State,” Rogers said after commissioners unanimously approved the partnership. “I am very proud that Kalamazoo County will be a pilot and I hope that every county will be implementing it.”

Woodhams said although a firm date has not been set, he expects the pilot program to launch later this year and be expanded to the entire state by early 2015.

Snow said said it’s unlikely the system will be available before candidates in this fall’s elections must upload their finance reports.