Greensboro council to discuss electronic financial campaign reports

At least one item on the Greensboro City Council's agenda for next week is simpler than it sounds: A resolution brought forward by District 4 Councilwoman Nancy Hoffmann on a "transparency and timeliness in reporting" campaign finances is designed to encourage candidates to file mandatory financial reports electronically.

Hoffmann said the League of Women Voters brought the issue to her, which was timely because she was already planning to use the software to report electronically.

"We live in the 21st century, right?" Hoffmann said, adding that it would be easier to read than scratched handwriting on some reports, easier to transmit and save time at the elections office.

The resolution won't compel city council candidates to file electronically, it would just encourage them to do so.

Speaking of Greensboro City Council, a $1.5 million funding request from the International Civil Rights Center & Museum has been postponed from the council's agenda again to allow museum staff to provide more financial information. The item is now on council's Aug. 20 agenda, and the money would be paid over three years.

The meeting, which is normally held on the first and third Tuesdays of the month, was moved to Monday at 4 p.m. due to National Night Out on Tuesday.

As an aside: Having read through tons of campaign reports, the prospect of not dealing with illegible handwriting is definitely alluring. Numbers and names are frequently difficult to decipher, causing confusion. It may also be easier to search for specific donors or expenditures with a typed, electronic file, increasing transparency and making our watchdog role easier. 

On the other hand, Jordan Green has experienced software glitches with electronically filed reports that provided inaccurate information, which is also a real concern. Either way, candidates can expect to be hearing from us to verify names and amounts when reports are available. I also wonder how some candidates — like Jean Brown who said she doesn't have a computer — will react if it's passed.

UPDATE: Several candidates filed a "certificate of threshold" which means they won't have to provide as strict finance reporting because they expect to spend less than $1,000. Mayoral candidate George Hartzman, at-large contenders Joseph Landis and Marlando Pridgen, District 3 candidate Corey Pysher and Sal Leone and Alex Seymour in District 5 all filled out a threshold certificate. If any of them ends up crossing the $1,000 mark — as Councilman Danny Thompson questionably did in 2011 — they are required to notify the elections board and follow normal filing procedures.


Roch Smith, Jr said...

The resolution demonstrates a gross misunderstanding (misrepresentation?) of Citizens United. Someone didn't do her research.

Hartzman said...

Billy Jones said...

The same Nancy Hoffmann who is late in filing?

Walter Salinger said...

Even a casual reading of the resolution reveals that its purpose is to encourage the Greensboro City Council to go on record in support of the idea that all candidates for public office should voluntarily submit their campaign finance reports electronically even if they are not required by law to do so. The “Citizens United” decision clearly is not the focus of the resolution.

Accordingly the resolution’s preamble contains only two clauses that contained references to “Citizens United” while the other 8 clauses contain none.

Moreover, in those two clauses in which “Citizens United is mentioned, the resolution expresses views on the nature of the decision that matches precisely those that were expressed explicitly by at least four of the Supreme Court Justices who participated in the “Citizens United” decision.

Thus, one of the clauses in the preamble of the resolution declares that the “Citizens United” decision effectively removes limits on campaign spending by private citizens and corporations. In this respect, the resolution’s view of the nature of “Citizens United” matches those of Supreme Court Justice Stevens, together with Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor whose formal opinion on the case mentions “limits” or “limitations” on campaign spending no fewer than 20 times.

Similarly, the second clause in the preamble that refers to “Citizens United” addresses the concern that limitless contributions by corporations or individuals will engender “corruption or the appearance of corruption”. If the writers of the resolution misunderstood or misrepresented “Citizens United” in this clause, then so did these same Supreme Court Justices since the word, “corruption”, appears in their formal opinion on 69 different instances, either by itself or in phrases like “appearance of corruption” or “perception of corruption”.

Finally, lest the main point of the resolution be lost in this exchange, its key point is that candidates would be urged by the city council to voluntarily report their campaign finances electronically because: 1) most campaign contributions are made so close to the election that voters have no way of knowing who gave money to a candidate before they vote unless candidates report their finances electronically because paper reports take too long to process and be made public; 2) voters have a right to know who is giving money to support the election of a particular candidate so they can know where the potential conflicts of interests may lie; and 3) no auditor from the state board of elections certifies the honesty and accuracy of city and county election campaign finance reporting that is done with paper reporting forms because there are too many candidates and PACs and too few state funded campaign finance auditors to get the job done on a timely basis.