By State Senator Frank LaRose, The Cleveland Plain Dealer If elections are the vehicle of our democracy, technology is the engine that propels them forward efficiently. Unfortunately, by no fault of their own, county boards of elections are stuck with a horse and buggy when it comes to campaign finance reporting. While campaign committees and state candidates such as myself have used an electronic filing system for the past 15 years, county boards of elections can only accept paper reports because state law has failed to keep pace with modern technology.
In 2016, Ohioans should have the opportunity to view local campaign finance reports online as they already have the ability to review reports from state candidates. Full transparency demands nothing less.
With the enthusiastic support of the bipartisan Ohio Association of Elections Officials, I authored legislation to remove the paper-only requirement that still regulates municipal, county and local candidates and campaign committees that file with county boards of elections. In this day and age, it's shocking that a candidate or campaign committee would have to drop off a pile of paperwork at their county elections office to meet current legal requirements.
The concept is straightforward: Amended Senate Bill 206 would update Ohio's campaign finance law by allowing campaign finance reports to be filed electronically. This legislation passed the Senate with unanimous bipartisan support in May, and it will be referred to a House committee in the fall when the legislature returns.
County boards of elections would still be responsible for overseeing this process and auditing the reports, as well as training and assisting filers.
For the sake of transparency and accountability, Ohio citizens must have the ability to examine the finances of the political candidates and committees that campaign for their vote. Ultimately, these facts and figures tell a more objective story than any campaign ad or speech ever could. If we hope to keep Ohio voters informed and engaged in the decisions affecting their communities, we have to use modern means of communication.
Since 1999, the Ohio secretary of state's office has operated an online campaign finance database that provides information that is easy to search, download and analyze. If enacted, Senate Bill 206 would open the same database to county boards of elections, creating access to campaign finance reports for state and local candidates in the same place for those candidates who file electronically. Adding to the current database would save the public from having to search for campaign finance data in two different places, streamline filing requirements for candidates and eliminate unnecessary paperwork for local boards of elections. The legislation would also help Ohio's dedicated investigative journalists to do their jobs more effectively. There are only winners in this scenario.
As an elected official, I have actively championed legislation to make elections as efficient, transparent and accessible as possible for voters. In the past year alone, I have supported a budget amendment to fund electronic poll books statewide, authored legislation that will bring online voter registration to Ohio, and proposed a more fair and bipartisan way of drawing congressional district lines.
Some of these proposals attract more controversy than others, but modernizing Ohio's campaign finance law should not be a subject of contention. Put simply, Senate Bill 206 cuts red tape and administrative paperwork while improving transparency in local elections. In providing easy access to voters, Ohio has long been a national leader. Modernizing campaign finance law is another commonsense measure to continue this trend. Respectfully, I call on my colleagues in the Ohio House to take this important measure into serious consideration when we return to Columbus this fall.
It's time to put the buggy in the barn and let local candidates and elections officials join the modern world.
Republican State Sen. Frank LaRose of Hudson represents the 27th Ohio Senate District, encompassing all or part of Stark, Summit and Wayne counties.