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story.lead_photo.caption Rep. Jana Della Rosa, R-Springdale

State Rep. DeAnn Vaught filed an affidavit with the secretary of state's office on Aug. 22 in which she said that she didn't have access to the technology needed to submit her campaign-finance reports in electronic form, so she agreed to file on paper for the rest of the 2018 election cycle.

But the Republican from Horatio later withdrew her affidavit, registered with the secretary of state's office on Sept. 14 to file her reports online, and submitted her report for last quarter in electronic form on Oct. 13, according to the secretary of state's office.

Vaught is one of a handful of candidates for state offices who filed affidavits allowing them exemption from a new law's requirement that candidates file reports electronically, starting Oct. 1.

So far, the other candidates who have filed these affidavits include Reps. David Branscum, R-Marshall, and Lane Jean, R-Magnolia, and Sen. Ronald Caldwell, R-Wynne, according to records in the secretary of state's office. Candidates for state office previously could file their reports either in paper or electronic form.

Two-hundred twenty-five candidates registered with the secretary of state's office to file finance reports electronically, said Chris Powell, a spokesman for Republican Secretary of State Mark Martin's office.

He said 115 of these candidates filed reports in electronic form for last quarter due at the office last week; 51 filed reports for their campaign carry-over funds in electronic form and one filed a report in electronic form on his campaign debt retirement effort.

"As with any transition of this nature, there are going to be some things that have to be ironed out," Powell said Friday when asked how the new filing system has fared so far. "But we are confident that this new system is going to be a real asset to both filers and citizen."

So far, the highest-profile glitch with the new filing system came when Republicans Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's campaigns reported they were unable to file separate reports for their primary and general election campaigns, so they each filed one combined report for both campaigns based on advice from the state Ethics Commission. The campaigns said the filing system allowed them only to file one report and not two.

Powell said the glitch "has been fixed" and candidates will be able to file separate reports for primary and general election campaigns in the future.

Rep. Jana Della Rosa, R-Springdale -- who sponsored Act 318 of 2017 to require candidates to file campaign-finance reports electronically, with limited exceptions -- said she believes that the first round "actually went really well.

"Any of the difficulties that anybody had has just been with just figuring out the new system, where to click to do what you need to do," she said Friday.

"There were a few little glitches that were unique to each lawmaker, but it's our first swing through this," Della Rosa said. "They worked out a lot of bugs initially, but there is just always going to be one or two little things that you don't see until you got hundreds of people trying to get into the system and then they'll uncover little ticky things that you wouldn't notice. ... It's just growing pains, just getting used to something new."

Della Rosa said she got calls from about 15 to 20 representatives seeking help with their electronic filings.

"At about 4:30, 5 o'clock, when the secretary of state's office [closed], the Jana Della Rosa help line seemed to start up. But I was more than happy to answer any questions I could," she said.

At least 33 states require all of their state-office candidates to file reports electronically or allow only limited hardship exemptions, according to information provided by the Helena, Mont.,-based National Institute of Money in State Politics.

"Mississippi was the only state without an electronic filing option last year, and has since launched that option," said Ed Bender, the institute's executive director. "All 50 states now have electronic filing options of varying quality.

"With the FEC [Federal Election Commission], NYCBOE [New York City Board of Elections] and other agencies adopting not just electronic filing, but also API feeds of that data to the public, disclosure and transparency of campaign finance and election activities is finally coming into the 21st century," Bender said.

An API is an application programming interface that allows one computer to talk to another and stream data, he said.

Della Rosa said electronic filing will be good for the state in the long run because "the public will have access to easy good information on campaign finances, transparency."

The website is: http://financial-disclosures.sos.arkansas.gov/#/index

State candidates previously could either file campaign-finance reports in paper form or electronic form in the secretary of state's office and "while technically the information was available, it was so cumbersome to go through you can't look across candidates very well and you can't see who is giving money," Della Rosa said.

The new filing system is designed to allow candidates to list their donors in a format that's easily searchable. Instead of downloading copies of paper financial reports, searchers will be able to find the total amount given by specific donors across different candidates and races. The new system built by PCC Technology Inc. cost about $761,575, including three years of maintenance and support, Powell said.

Meanwhile, Vaught said she filed an affidavit in August for an exemption because "in my area, there's not really great Internet service.

"I go months at a time without any Internet service. It's just very sporadic," she said last week. Her home is in Horatio, which is in Sevier County.

In their signed affidavits, Vaught and three other candidates declared, "I do not have access to the technology necessary to submit reports in electronic form," and that "submitting reports in electronic form would constitute a substantial hardship for me," so "I agree to file all other reports in paper form for the duration of the election cycle."

Vaught, chairman of the House Management Committee, withdrew her affidavit because, she said, "I decided I will go up to a local cafe that may be 20 miles away that has Internet service or most of the time, maybe I'll be here [at the state Capitol] and I can do it that way."

Vaught said filing her campaign report last week "wasn't the easiest process because not everything is set up really correctly in there per se.

"But in the end, though, once they get all the kinks worked out, I think it will be easy, so I'm glad I did it because in the end it will be much easier," she said. She said it took her about two days to correctly file her latest report, but under the previous method it took her about a half hour.

Branscum, who has served in the House since 2011 and isn't seeking re-election next year, said he filed an exemption affidavit because he doesn't have reliable Internet service at his home in Marshall.

"Most of the time it stays off," said Branscum, who is a co-chairman of the Legislative Council. "You cannot even watch Netflix. When the boys come to watch Netflix and they are watching House of Cards, it starts out like the sound is gone and then in a little bit it starts coming up and reconnecting. It's a joke."

Caldwell, who has served in the Senate since 2013, said he filed an exemption affidavit because he doesn't have high-speed Internet at his home about a half mile outside Wynne, except for "a hot spot" that doesn't work very well.

Caldwell, who is chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development Committee, said his home is about 900 yards away from high-speed Internet service, where the cable is," and "if I want it, I have to pay for it and it's quite expensive."

Jean, who has served in the House since 2011, said he filed an affidavit for the exception because he has an office on his farm 15 miles outside Magnolia, and his Internet access isn't reliable.

"I am planning to file online," he said, and he filed the affidavit to give him flexibility to file in either form. "I got to get somebody to coach me how to do it."

"Once you do an affidavit, you can do anything you want," said Jean, who is a co-chairman of the Joint Budget Committee.

But Powell said candidates who seek the exemption "are required to file by paper for the duration of the cycle if they submit an affidavit. By signing the affidavit, they are acknowledging that they are unable to file electronically."

Photo by Arkansas Secretary of State
State Rep. DeAnn Vaught
Photo by Arkansas Secretary of State
Rep. David Branscum, R-Marshall
Photo by Arkansas Secretary of State
Rep. Lane Jean, R-Magnolia

SundayMonday on 10/22/2017

Print Headline: E-filing opt-outs few for hopefuls

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  • RBear
    October 22, 2017 at 8:12 a.m.

    To start with, this is great to see this type of transparency finally coming to Arkansas. Prior to coming back home to AR, I regularly reviewed campaign finance reports for both local and state elections. In one case, I was able to highlight the extensive influence one candidate received from trial lawyers for a state office. In another case, contribution discrepancies were noted including some that violated TX campaign finance laws.
    ...
    The downside is that having this information easily available could bring out the antagonists who use this information to dog elected officials about minute discrepancies. In TX, one such group existed in Houston specifically for the purpose of harassing Democratic officials about some of the most minute issues. Each has to be addressed and failure to do so results in fines in the thousands of dollars.
    ...
    With regards to the three who filed affidavits, one doesn't really have an excuse and I can venture to say the other two don't either. If a student can get to a public library to do homework when their Internet service is bad, they could do the same. In the case of Branscum, the rep tweets regularly and posts articles in tweets so my guess is that's a ruse on his part.
    ...
    Now that the data is out there, it's time to start digging into who is financing the campaigns of some of these legislators and understand who has influence on the laws of our state.

  • LR1955
    October 22, 2017 at 8:45 a.m.

    Some issues might be glitches, but some of what was described above sounded like errors in the architecture of the program the state paid $700K plus for.
    As far as access to the internet, since all schools in AR are suppose to have high speed internet, they should be able to visit their local school district and get these reports filed on time.
    I didn’t see any mention of penalties mentioned for filing late. Are there some and we’re they waivered because of the “glitches”?

  • Popsmith
    October 22, 2017 at 2:51 p.m.

    While we're at it, how about efiling of income tax returns. It would save Arkansas and the tax payers a bundle.
    Oh, but it would exclude too many in the tax return business.

  • RBear
    October 22, 2017 at 3:22 p.m.

    One thing that came to mind after thinking about this more is that those three reps should be the first in line to drive at better broadband in Arkansas. If they are having such a hard time e-filing their campaign finance (which really isn't that much of a bandwidth hog, more an excuse to be lazy), then they should be lobbying hard for greater broadband access across the state.
    ...
    Popsmith, I agree. My guess is they haven't built out the infrastructure for it and rely on file transfers from processors to get their information.

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