Searchable annual campaign finance reports for statewide officials became accessible online to the public for the first time at 5 p.m. Thursday on the Mississippi Secretary of State’s website.
The portal has been one of the election reform projects that Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has been working to implement.
Hosemann explained that though 73 candidates signed up to use the online filing system, candidates can use any method — including paper filing — to report because there is no requirement at this time for digital filing. He noted that learning the digital system requires some training.
“Everyone has had to file up to this point. If you go look up Hob Bryan or whomever, you can see his form,” Hosemann said. “What we’re increasing here is the ability to search it electronically. The problem isn’t that it’s not there. What this does it make it so you can access it more quickly.”
Candidates previously filed their campaign finance reports using a printed form. Those forms were then uploaded to the Secretary of State’s website.
However, those documents could not be searched electronically and users confronted obstacles ranging from chicken-scratch handwriting to the inability to electronically search for specific contributors across various candidates.
Hosemann said he hopes with this new system candidates will file their records online, and the public will be able to see who donated what to their campaigns. By increasing access and the ability to search records electronically, Hosemann said, he is hoping to increase government accountability.
If implemented across the state, campaign finance records would then be able to be searched by candidate, committee, office, contribution and expenditure.
For example, if a search is done in the “Committee” tab for Hosemann, the result that comes up will be “Friends of Delbert Hosemann.”
After clicking on the result, a user can see the date that he filed his annual report and can view the report itself.
Because the document is searchable, the public can type in “PAC” to see the names and amounts that various political action committee’s donated to his campaign.
The increased search function allows the public to understand where money is coming from and what it is being spent on, Hosemann noted.
“The information is more complete, more accurate, and more legible this year then I’ve seen in past years. We’re making headway on clearing some of this (campaign finance) log jam,” Hosemann said. “I’d like to see it mandatory after the 2020 election.”
The Brennan Center at New York University Law School, which develops policies to try and limit the amount of money that is involved in elections places finance record transparency among their largest goals.
“Transparency is necessary to empower voters to hold elected officials accountable,” the Center wrote a release on their website.
“It will work well for the ones that used it,” Hosemann said. “And that gives us some practice for when we have campaign finance reform and I think we will this year. We will be situated to take it on.”