Slow motion: Pennsylvanians get late access to political reports

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In these times of instant communication, Pennsylvania's Department of State still has a place for someone like Bartleby the Scrivener, the title character of the Herman Melville short story who was charged with penning legal documents by hand.

Although many states require political candidates to file their campaign finance reports electronically, Pennsylvania allows those who wish to file on paper. Most of them do.

In the primary, two-thirds of the filings were on paper, which meant state employees had to scan them into the computer system and send the information to an outside contractor, which had 72 hours to enter the data and return it in a form that could be posted on the department's website.

The same process is in place today and that four-day delay means it is probable that citizens eager to see who is donating to candidates won't have up-to-date information before they vote on Nov. 6.

The Legislature has shown no appetite for bringing the campaign finance rules into the 21st century by requiring electronic submissions.

Timing is just a small part of the trouble with Pennsylvania's campaign finance laws. The bigger problem is a lack of limits on contributions by individuals. Just ask Kathleen Kane, the former Lackawanna County prosecutor who won the Democratic nomination for state attorney general.

Her husband, who owns a trucking company, donated $2.25 million to her primary campaign. Christopher Kane topped the list of the state's top 10 donors to federal and state campaigns since 2011, according to a report by the nonprofit news group PublicSource. Republican Tom Smith already has poured $16.5 million of his own money into his Senate race against Democrat Bob Casey.

As significant as some of the individual donations are, they are dwarfed by contributions from political action committees. Their influence is most obvious in television and radio advertising and in mailboxes overflowing with fliers featuring doctored photographs and outlandish claims.

It's too late for this year, but Pennsylvania lawmakers can and should enact limits on campaign contributions in line with the controls on spending in federal elections, and they must modernize the reporting process.



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