Computerized files needed for election finance reporting

August 10, 1996

The Sun's July 16 editorial, ''More sunshine on fund-raisers,'' was correct in its diagnosis that ''Maryland's campaign finance law is flawed,'' and, further, that ''politicians can hide from public view details of their fund-raising efforts.'' From there on, however, fiction passed for fact in one of the most misguided pieces of writing I've seen in a long time.

Yes, Maryland politicians can now easily ''hide'' from public view their fund-raising information, but not for the reason -- infrequent reporting -- your editorial claims. The fact that Maryland has not yet seen fit to computerize the campaign finance information it requires politicians to file is the problem. The fact that candidates are not now required to report their fund-raising activity in real-time is not.

The purpose of requiring candidates to report their contribution information is to allow voters to know -- before they vote -- which individual, corporate, union or other interests have contributed to the candidate's campaign. Reasonably timed pre-election reports generally serve their purpose adequately. If more frequent reports are desirable, they can be made (as are those at the federal level) by so-called ''last-minute'' post card or electronic reports of larger (over $5,000) contributions, obviating the need for excessive, essentially useless, nearly-blank, reports.

My experience on the staff of the Federal Election Commission, and with several federal level campaigns convinces me that there is no realistic disclosure benefit to be gained in making candidates and their political committees file finance reports with the frequency that The Sun's editors have recommended.

Such frequency would not only increase the likelihood of inadvertent reporting errors, but would make it far more difficult for the press and relevant state agencies to intelligently process and disclose reported information to the public. Far more beneficial would be to do what has inexplicably not been done to date: to construct the computerized database of campaign finance information that any serious disclosure effort requires. Such disclosure, after all, is the point of the campaign finance reporting exercise.

A computerized database -- not increased reporting requirements -- would have likely caught the Joseph De Francis contribution violations that motivated The Sun's call for more sunshine on state political fund-raising.

rieda Campbell

Bethesda

Pub Date: 8/10/96

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