Bill aims to modernize campaign-finance reporting in Ohio

Rep. John Becker wonders about a lot of things, such as why it takes an extra 34 cents to fully max out your contribution in Ohio, and why local candidates in 2016 still file campaign finance reports on paper.

The Cincinnati-area Republican hopes to simplify some of Ohio’s “silly” campaign finance laws and pull local candidates into modern times, where they file electronic finance reports that are easily accessible.

Becker has introduced a multifaceted campaign finance bill that, among other things, would no longer require candidates who raise less than $2,000 to file a report and eliminates the need to list the date of a fundraising event, along with the date of a contribution.

“We have a lot of silly, diminutive reporting that has no value. It just creates complications,” Becker said.

Becker said the bill grew out of conversations with Curt Mayhew, former longtime campaign finance administrator for the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.

House Bill 502 also looks to round the state’s maximum contribution limit to the nearest $100.

This year, for example, you can give $12,532 to a state candidate in Ohio, but you won’t max out your contribution unless you tack on an extra 34 cents. In 2015 there were 36 contributions maxed out to the last penny.

Becker also wants to put an end to the filing of local campaign activity via paper forms at county election boards.

The bill would phase in electronic filing, beginning with county-wide candidates in 2017, trustees and school board candidates in 2018, and city and village candidates in 2019. Local candidates would use the secretary of state’s web site to upload information, same as state candidates have done for nearly 15 years.

“It works pretty well and it’s pretty simple,” Becker said.

Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials, said electronic filing is more efficient, saves taxpayer money and enhances transparency.

Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Copley, introduced an electronic filing bill in September. Though it appears to have support, Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, called it a “technological house of horrors” that would make it more difficult for local candidates to find campaign treasurers.

LaRose said he hopes the bill will pass the Senate before lawmakers break for the summer. “The technophobia argument doesn’t really go very far.”

Other provisions of Becker’s bill include:

  • No longer requiring the secretary of state’s office to audit every candidate’s campaign finance filings. Becker said that, in practice, every candidate is not audited because the office doesn’t have the manpower.

“We will audit as many people as we can based on staffing, but we’re not going to pick on people,” he said. “If we’re going to audit a particular race, we’re going to audit everybody in that race.”

But Josh Eck, spokesman for Secretary of State Jon Husted, said the change is unnecessary. “Our campaign finance department is very efficiently auditing campaign accounts,” he said.

  • Delays filing of a post-general finance reports until the first week of early January, instead of late December, so the report captures the full calendar year.
  • No longer requires detailed reporting of income or expenses for a single entity that total less than $100.
  • Allows, but not requires, use of bank statements to verify campaign spending. In 2013, after former state Rep. Clayton Luckie of Dayton was sentenced to three years in prison related to improper campaign spending, both Husted and Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien called for lawmakers to require the filing of bank records to verify spending reports.

Catherine Turcer, policy analyst for Common Cause Ohio, said she agrees with a number of provisions in the bill, but says it doesn’t go far enough. For example, she’s fine with rounding off the maximum contribution, but the limit remains too high.

She would like to see bank statements required and requirements for reporting of independent expenditures.

“If the goal was to improve disclosure, they missed the mark,” she said.

Jim Siegel, The Columbus Dispatch, Monday April 11, 2016 5:53 AM
Bill aims to modernize campaign-finance reporting in Ohio