Ohio campaign finance and the A.D.A.

On Thursday, Oct 20, 2016 I made the journey to Columbus to throw myself at the mercy of the Ohio Elections Commission. The local Montgomery County Board of (S)Elections had turned me in for failure to file my 2014 annual campaign finance report. Only thing is, I didn’t run in 2014- or 2015, or collect more than $1000 either year.

But, that’s really just a moot point, since the whole system is really just a kangaroo court of fake transparency. Starting with this:

The Elections Commission holds regular meetings. The schedule of the Commission’s regularly scheduled meeting for 2016 is listed below. All meetings are held in the Riffe Center located at 77 South High Street, Columbus, OH 43215. Please contact the Commission staff for suite numbers for all meetings of the Elections Commission. As a scheduled agenda for a meeting is made available, Commission staff will do its best to post it below.

Source: Ohio Elections Commission

There isn’t a single agenda posted.

But, they were going to fine me $25 a day for every day I hadn’t filed- for both years, or some such. But, let’s talk about those filings, because I did. I recorded it for this blog- and to make a case for a lawsuit against Secretary of State Jon Husted for failing to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the filing and recording of campaign finance reports across the state of Ohio.

Now, why is the ADA so important? And why is this is a farce?

Because if public documents aren’t ADA compliant- ie- machine readable- they are also not google friendly. This means, PDF documents, filled out on a computer are the minimal standard. But, wait, said one of the commission members- what if you don’t have a computer? Seriously? In 2016- if you don’t have a computer, you shouldn’t be:

a) running for office
b) asking for campaign contributions

Secondly, it seemed that I wasn’t the only scofflaw that was naughty. On the agenda, that wasn’t posted, there were 38 others from Montgomery County- out of 67 statewide.

That should tell you something. And, many of them- are sitting in office right now.

Our local board of (s)election would rather play “Gotcha” than help people run for office. They’d also prefer it if, frankly, you didn’t run- because we can pick everyone ourselves between the party chiefs without voters to make it difficult- but, uh- that’s another matter.

I found it odd that while they had no problem filing against me for my 2014 annual- the organization shilling issue 9 didn’t file at all this year- “Neighborhoods for Dayton’s Future” weren’t in trouble- or being chastised. Why is that?

In reality, even if everyone files, all the stinking pre-election, post-election, bi-annual, annual, etc- with the board of (s)elections, there is still no easy way to quickly find or analyze any of it. You have to know what you are looking for because they are posted as scans of printed documents (sometimes handwritten) to the site  http://www.mcohio.org/government/county_agencies/board_of_elections/candidate_tools_election_issues/CF_Reports/

Where you have to know what year, what report, and then you can look down the list and download the non-ADA compliant report.

So when we hear that the Redflex traffic cam president is being hauled off to jail, for donating money to politicians to install her cameras with a nice split of ticket revenue, you’d have to go in and pull each and every politicians report, one-by-one, for days and weeks in order to find her name, or her  lobbyist ,John Raphael, donating to anyone.

Contrast that with the still pathetic, but workable Federal Elections Commission database (they have a new beta site that looks better) where you can search by donor, by candidate, by PAC and get reasonable data of all donors meeting the $250 threshold. Or, you can go over to use the more useful Open Secrets site that reformats and pivots the data so that it’s really useful.

To recap: The Ohio Secretary of State has crafted a whole bunch of reporting forms that make the IRS look like user experience design gods- with a slew of different, nonsensically named and numbered forms, that aren’t computer ready or database connected.

And, yes, I know there is a column called “Fillable PDF” but it really isn’t.

A true document designer would have a single PDF that walks you through questions, and lets the committee fill out each area that is needed, and the form does all the calculation and error checking. You’d fill out the candidates name once, his committee name once, his treasurer name once, and you would enter data in (or import it from a CSV file) for donors, or expenses, that would automatically fill in the fields, and step and repeat as needed until the document was complete- at which point you would click file- and it would electronically send the file to the BOE- and enter all the data into a searchable database. If this sounds like a website- it’s because, that’s really how it should be done- but, PDF’s were invented before the Internet as we now know it- and can do all of these functions also.

There is no need for 35 forms. Only insurance companies and Jon Husted could come up with something that insane for a basic accounting report.

Another problem is the idea of closing campaign committees to stop from having to file these stupid annual filings via document hell. Since the new post 9/11 banking rules took effect, the opening of campaign bank accounts, linking pay pal accounts and all the miscellaneous stuff behind a campaign is incredible difficult and a barrier to running. There should be a simple check box at the top of the site- “I didn’t run for office this year or receive more than $1000 in donations. I understand that if I receive more than $1000 or choose to run again, I will have to file a report of transactions for the years I didn’t run.” Simple. No one should care about these small money accounts being held open to pay for things like keeping a URL and website up.

And, if this is all built properly, the system would automatically send out emails letting you know that a filing deadline is coming up and that you should go see if you need to file. This isn’t rocket science. The fact that 38 people from Montgomery County missed their deadlines says something isn’t working.

Lastly, there are fines levied on people who don’t file. What difference does that make to someone who has raised tens of thousands or even millions? Not much. To the small campaigns- a lot. Is this really democratic? Or is it punitive? And, what about the sneaky PAC running issue 9? What do they care if they get fined- since they’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to pass their tax increase so public tax dollars can be doled out to private enterprises who are probably backing it?

How about this, if you don’t file, and you win, you lose and are banned from running for a year, or putting a similar issue back on the ballot instead of fines? If campaign finance is really about transparency and integrity, this makes more sense than the hand-slap, after the effort fine.

Of course, the OEC isn’t just taking care of finance reports, they are also the ones who go after people for having signs without the small disclaimer print, the mailings that go out at the last minute that slander people and throw elections etc.  All of which are window dressing on the system that is rigged for the 2 major parties to continue to have it their way or their way.

And while I don’t believe for one minute that our voting system is rigged the way the Donald claims it is, I do know the rules governing small campaigns are rigged to put as many obstacles in place as possible for free-thinkers to run.

If you’d like to hear my monologue to the OEC- here it is:

 

 

 

 

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed! If you wish to support this blog and independent journalism in Dayton, consider donating. All of the effort that goes into writing posts and creating videos comes directly out of my pocket, so any amount helps!