February 1, 2016

Campaign finance report modernization effort moves forward

The House panel that deals with elections issues passed a bill that supporters say would modernize the campaign finance reporting system.

iStock_000001334173_SmallThe unanimous vote in the House, Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee came after months of media attention on scandals involving campaign finance, some of which was caused by a confusing and outdated system of campaign finance reporting.

Rep. James Smith, R-Sandia Park, said that with the current system “most of the information is reported in what’s called PDF format, which is a non-searchable report. We can’t follow the money very well, is how I would put it.”

He said this bill came from work on how to make the process more transparent, which involved working with the Secretary of State’s office.

Kari Fresquez, the Chief Information Officer at the Secretary of State’s office, was there to support the legislation on behalf of the Secretary of State’s office and spoke often of “modernization.”

“I really like this bill. I think it goes a long way towards supporting transparency and accountability,” Fresquez said.

She says that in the current model, there has been “no inter-connectivity” between different sections of the current system making it “extremely arduous to try to track the money from one to another.”

This means it is difficult to compare spending by lobbyists against campaign finance spending or spending by PACs compared to candidates spending.

The panel’s questions largely focused on technical aspects and they made two small technical changes, including changing a reporting threshold from $75 to $100.

Much of the discussion was on the reporting of donations by lobbyists.

State Rep. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, was concerned about changing vendors as the system changes.

“When you switch vendors for IT, it’s always been a disaster in this state,” Martinez said.

Fresquez said that the Secretary of State’s office would put out a request for proposals and the current vendor could submit a proposal if she wished.

However, she said there are 49 other systems to look at and take ideas from, referring to the other states in the country.

“We certainly don’t have to reinvent the wheel, there are some pretty good systems out there,” she said.

The bill now heads to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, where supporters hope it doesn’t fall prey to dropping budget projections because of a weak oil and gas market. Fresquez said it was not part of the Secretary of State’s budget request.