JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi is becoming the last state to allow electronic filing of campaign finance reports, a step toward easier public access to information about who is spending money to influence elections.
The National Institute on Money in State Politics says all 49 other states already had either mandatory or voluntary electronic filing of finance reports.
Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann launched a voluntary electronic filing system Tuesday, declaring: "It's more than a baby step."
Hosemann is limited in what he is allowed to do because he needs legislators' permission to change the campaign finance filing system. Some Mississippi legislators still submit hard-to-read handwritten campaign finance reports, and others are reluctant to create a database that would be easy for other candidates to download for information about potential donors.
The Mississippi secretary of state's staff has scanned candidates' paper forms and posted them online for years. But those documents are not searchable and it's burdensome to calculate, for example, how much money a group or person gives to multiple candidates.
Republican Hosemann said he will ask the GOP-controlled Legislature to make electronic filing mandatory for statewide and district candidates starting in 2020 — after the current four-year term.
The Montana-based National Institute on Money in State Politics gave Mississippi an "F'' earlier this year on a campaign finance disclosure scorecard , partly because of Mississippi's status as the only state without searchable finance records.
"Every other state has some sort of electronic filing system, either voluntary or required for various candidates and committees," the institute's research director, Pete Quist, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "Mississippi is the last state to join this trend, but we at the Institute commend Mississippi for taking the initial steps to move into modern campaign finance disclosure."
U.S. senators still submit campaign finance reports on paper, and the federal government pays a private contractor to enter the information into an electronic format, David Vance, spokesman for the open-government advocacy group Common Cause, said Tuesday. Although that information becomes searchable, he said it is not immediately available to the public.
"It's absolutely pathetic," Vance said of the Senate system.
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