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States opening campaign books

While Congress focuses on alleged campaign finance violations, states are working to let wired citizens dissect records for themselves.

While Congress and journalists focus on alleged campaign finance violations, state lawmakers are quietly working to let wired citizens dissect the records for themselves.

Of all the Net regulation waves, the posting of campaign records online is taking hold in almost every state. The New York Legislature is the latest to take action, sending a bill to Gov. George E. Pataki August 8 that requires candidates who garner more than $1,000 in state elections to file electronically by July 1999. As of today, Pataki had not approved the provision, which was buried in a state budget bill.

According to a new site launched by the Center for Responsive Politics, many states are pushing both mandatory and voluntary electronic filing systems. Most would put the digital records on the Net; others would allow candidates to file directly online, as opposed to a disk. The CRP's status report also shows that more than a dozen states are sticking to paper--for now.

For example, Tennessee, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, and Kansas aren't going digital yet. Idaho is getting there; it computerizes paper records manually and posts them online up to two weeks after they're filed.

However, states that list political backers online mandate filing at numerous dollar caps, ranging from $250 to $250,000. In addition, each state collects different data on contributors and has various requirements as to which candidates must file. A centralized filing format is in the works now in order to give surfers a one-stop shop for tracking dollars donated to candidates. (See related story)

Florida and Hawaii already have mandatory filing systems. The Maryland legislature passed a mandatory electronic filing law this year that will take effect in November for all candidates. By 1999, lobbyist groups, parties, and state legislative committees also will have to file digitally in that state.

Others have passed funding and implementation plans. According to the CRP, states promising to have trial or permanent digital filing systems up by 1998 include Alaska, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia.

Connecticut passed legislation in June that requires the secretary of state's office approve a system by 1999 for candidates that raise more than $250,000. Other candidates can use the system to file voluntarily.

Colorado's mandatory system was approved last year and will be up and running by December. In Illinois, a bill requiring online disclosure of campaign dollars recently passed in the state legislature and is awaiting the governor's signature.

In California, state Sen. Betty Karnette (D-Long Beach) is gaining ground with her bill to require candidates and other campaigners to report finances online by June 1, 2000, if their total contributions exceed $100,000 in primary elections and $50,000 in general elections. Karnette's bill will be taken up by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on August 27.