n the last five years, new technology has pushed data
about campaign contributors out of file cabinets into the
around-the-clock visibility of the Web. Many states adopted
the new electronic filing systems with reservations, but most
state election officials reported in a survey released today
that they worked well, saved money and were popular with the
The officials also reported strong satisfaction with the
new systems among candidates and the news media. The survey,
by the Center of Governmental Studies, a nonprofit research
group in Los Angeles, covered officials in 50 states, six
cities and six Canadian provinces.
"We used to have crowds of reporters waiting for copies,"
said Lee Daghlian, director of public information for the New
York Board of Elections in Albany. "Now, no one shows up
The survey found that 46 states and the federal government
collected campaign financial disclosure statements with
computer technology. Most of those states post some of that
information on their Web sites. Twenty states require
candidates and committees to file electronically if they raise
or spend a certain amount of money.
In some states, candidates may choose whether to file
reports on paper or electronically. Officials in some of those
states, including Florida and New Mexico, indicated in the
survey that they wanted to make electronic filing
"We're learning that if it's not mandatory, most filers
won't take the time to do it," said Bob Stern, president of
the Center for Governmental Studies. In many cases, Mr. Stern
said, candidates fear that making the data public faster
places them at a disadvantage.
The survey found that most criticism of electronic filing
involved technical issues. Several officials said they needed
more oversight of software vendors, more technical expertise
in their offices and more testing of the computer
Many state legislatures have fought over computer filing
and Internet disclosure. In California, six bills to approve
electronic disclosure were killed in three years. The seventh
bill passed in 1997.
Opponents argued that the systems were costly, would create
more work for government and invaded contributors'
In the 28 jurisdictions with figures available, the median
cost of setting up the systems was $164,000. The costs ranged
from less than $25,000 in Arizona and Alaska to more than $1
million in California. For the 20 jurisdictions in which the
figures were available, the median annual budget for the
programs was $87,500.
New York State started requiring candidates to file
financial reports electronically in 1999. The state issues
free software to help them do so. Once filed, the reports are
posted on the Internet.
Mr. Daghlian said the greater disclosure encouraged more
accurate reporting. "The public looks at it, so what's filed
is of better quality and more honest," he