New websites, apps seek to address campaign finance criticism

Politics is moving online. Sen. Bernie Sanders waged a durable insurgent campaign for the Democratic nomination using online fundraising. Donald Trump, Republican candidate for the Presidency, has shown that Twitter has the power to replace TV commercials and radio ads as the most powerful form of political communication. 

Nationwide, candidates and their Political Action Committees have turned to email campaigns, social media outreach and PAC fundraising websites to energize supporters and bolster their war chests. Just as the internet has been harnessed to finance campaigns, it is increasingly being used to respond to and address criticisms of campaign finance disclosure. 

A website looks for transparency in Kansas
In a new national report, the Campaign Finance Institute, a nonpartisan think tank based in the District of Columbia, announced that most state election law compliance websites are confusing, difficult to navigate and, more often than not, provide inaccurate and flawed information. A regulator in Kansas recently took a small step to address some of those problems. 

"A new report found most state campaign finance websites were confusing and inaccurate."

According to the Lawrence Journal-World, the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission launched a new campaign finance website in March. Much like the new Federal Elections Commission website that launched earlier this year, the Kansas site aims to give citizens improved access to information about which candidates receive funds and who contributes to them.

"The website home page, we believe, is going to be easier for people to navigate," said Carol Williams, head of the Commission. "Once you hit 'campaign finance' and go to the area, I think it's going to be a bit easier to get the data that you need."

But Williams acknowledged the website wouldn't solve many of the issues raised directly by the CFI report. That's because despite the updated platform, the data itself remains unchanged. Composed primarily of PDF files, many of them filled out by hand, the data is difficult to search and navigate. Finding a particular donor seems especially challenging. 

In Kansas, it is the Secretary of State's office, not the Commission, that's responsible for collecting campaign finance reports. The Ethics Commission, however, is charged with making the reports available to the public. This new website is one small step toward making government transparency, in the state, better.

San Diego gets a new campaign finance app
More than a 1,000 miles away, San Diego, California is getting a new campaign finance news app. developed the app using data from the city clerk's website, allowing users to search for campaign contributions, according to the official announcement. 

Updated daily, the app gives users the newest information on how much money goes toward politicians, ballot measures and PACs all over the city. It replaces an antiquated system in which data on contributions could be found in only hard-to-navigate Excel files. 

The Inewsource app is a more robust, user-friendly variation on the kind of apps and websites popping up not just in Kansas, but nationwide. With campaign finance disclosure a concern for candidates and candidates on both sides of the aisle, it looks like easier access to campaign finance information may be on the horizon. PACs and candidates need to make sure all of their information is correct and reports are filed on time. Greater scrutiny of all campaign finance information is on the horizon.