Panel needs $420K to $1M to enforce campaign finance law
By JIM WALLS
March 17, 2011 — Complying with new campaign finance requirements next year could cost state overseers $420,000 to $1 million that they do not have, Senate budget writers learned today.
Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday signed legislation that forbids the State Campaign Finance Commission from using registered e-mail to notify candidates when their disclosures are filed late or completed improperly.
The e-mail service — which would send back word that an notice had been opened — would cost 32 cents per message. Instead, the new law requires that the agency use registered snail mail to send those notices, at a cost of $5.54 per message.
Multiply the difference by the estimated 25,000 notices to be sent in the coming year, and the additional cost is $130,000, Stacey Kalberman, executive secretary of the commission, told a Senate budget subcommittee today.
Inability to send out notices of late fees would also compromise enforcement of the Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Act, she said.
“People will catch on fairly quickly that they do not have to pay late fees and do not have to comply with the act,” she said.
Even costlier, Kalberman said, is a provision of the new law that allows candidates in city and county elections to file disclosures on paper rather than electronically.
Scanning those paper reports to create digital copies would cost the commission an estimated $290,450 in the coming year for staff and equipment, Kalberman said. A more expensive alternative — entering data from the disclosures into the commission’s online database by hand — would cost an estimated $890,000, she said.
None of that money is in the commission’s proposed 2011-12 budget. In fact, the agency’s 2012 budget would be trimmed by $84,000 under a spending plan that’s already cleared the Georgia House.
The proposed new costs are all associated with a 2010 law that requires candidates for local office to file campaign and personal financial disclosures with the state. That law relieved local election officials of that duty, so the disclosures are now available only from the commission.
The commission designed an electronic filing system to handle the expected 60,000 new filings — eight to 10 times its previous workload. Receiving half those filings on paper will require five new staffers to open the mail, ensure each disclosure is signed and notarized, and enter receipt into a computerized system so a late fee is not assessed.
That does not include the expense of posting the disclosures on the commission’s website, Kalberman said. If they’re not posted online, interested voters from across Georgia would have to travel to Atlanta to view them.
“In that sense, we had more disclosure previously,” before lawmakers passed the 2010 ethics law, she said.