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Georgia Seeks to Replace Campaign Reporting System

Only a few years after introducing a new e-filing system to let the public know who is funding campaigns and what politicians are beneficiaries of lobbyists’ largesse, the state is looking to replace it.

(TNS) — Only a few years after introducing a new and “improved” e-filing system that is supposed to let the public know who is funding campaigns and what politicians are beneficiaries of Capitol lobbyists’ largesse, the state is looking to scrap it and start over.

After spending an estimated $1.5 million buying and trying to make the new system workable, David Emadi, executive secretary of the Georgia Ethics Commission, said the state has put out a request for proposals for a new system that he hopes to have up and running by the fall of 2025, before the gubernatorial election the next year.

“It’s not great,” Emadi said of the current setup. “The campaign finance system has been out there three, 3 1/2 years and there are still a lot of issues we are dealing with.

“At the end of the day, we want all of this information easily accessible to the public and be easily entered by the stakeholder.”

Those trying to use it — from lawmakers and challengers trying to put campaign finance reports into the system to members of the public trying to search what’s supposed to be there — say it’s never worked the way it should.

Emadi said he doesn’t know how much another system will cost. But some state officials say lawmakers want to get the system fixed.

Civix, a Louisiana-based software company that installed and maintains the e-filing system, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Civix does not comment on client systems or open procurement.

“Civix remains fully committed to working with Georgia’s State Ethics Commission to modernize its campaign finance reporting system. We value the atate’s feedback and continue to address any concerns.

“Civix understands the complexities and challenges inherent in implementing state-wide systems; completing our engagement provides the state with the strongest possible return on investment and the most efficient path to completion.

NOTUS, a Washington publication from the nonprofit, nonpartisan Allbritton Journalism Institute, reported in April that some reports on last-minute donations weren’t showing up on the Ethics Commission site. That meant the public couldn’t see all the big-money, last-minute contributions to candidates before this month’s primary.

But the reporting problem was only the latest issue in a system that’s made it difficult for candidates and lobbyists who must file regular reports, and the public hoping to figure out who is influencing who.

The new system initially made it much more difficult for the public to search individual donors to multiple campaigns than the old system. Searching for information on who Capitol lobbyists worked for also became more difficult, and even the computer-savvy scratched their heads trying to look up expenditures by influencers.

One state official said he spent hours trying to figure out who a company hired to lobby for their firm.

That is important for lawmakers, and the public, because when somebody is pushing for or against legislation, it’s helpful to know who they represent. When someone, or some political action committee, is raising big money for a candidate or ballot issue, it’s important to know who is behind the effort.

The previous system had been in place for more than a decade and, while candidates had some complaints about having difficulty filing their campaign reports, it was much easier to navigate for members of the public.

Rick Thompson, a member of the State Ethics Commission and a former executive secretary of the agency, has been the new system’s biggest critic. Thompson runs a company that e-files reports for candidates and committees.

“This system is unsustainable,” he said. “We kept throwing money at this thing, and it just doesn’t work.

“People can’t understand anything, they can’t search for anything. Part of our job is to show that information to the public.”

He said the latest issue — about the big last-minute contributions not getting reported — was part of an ongoing trend.

“That is keeping the information from the public,” he said. “It went on too long.”

Thompson said he doesn’t blame the current Ethics Commission staff, some of whom are lawyers who have had to become more fluent in the technology to keep the system going.

“I am excited we are on this new path,” he said. “I understand the state has spent some money on this (new system), but we have to get this right. We can’t make another mistake.”

© 2024 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.