Financial information dealing with statewide and elected campaigns as well as lobbyist spending activities posted on the Oklahoma Ethics Commission's website isn't accurate because of glitches in the agency's outdated software.
“We've not been able to locate reports from lobbyists we know have filed, but we can find it under the lobbyist principal (who hires the lobbyist),” said Lee Slater, who took over as the agency's executive director in February. “We've been frustrated trying to track that problem down.”
Slater said he will be asking lawmakers for funds next year to buy a new software system, preferably the same kind used by federal election officials. No cost estimate is available.
Until then, candidates, lobbyists and the public will have to put up with a system in which information posted by some candidates and lobbyists randomly doesn't show up, Slater said. The software problem is causing irritation for candidates and their consultants as well as lobbyists, and resulting in inaccurate totals of lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and others.
“It's the worst I've ever seen — it's not user-friendly,” Slater said. “It's very difficult for everybody to figure out how it got that way.”
Even if his agency would get funding next year, there wouldn't be time to install it before the end of the 2014 campaign season, Slater said. It also would be unfair to change a reporting system especially to candidates in the waning months of next year's campaign, he said.
Slater said his staff and OK.gov, which manages the state's official website, are working on the problems.
“We certainly work with the vendor to try to keep them informed of all the problems that are reported to us,” he said.
Mark Mitchell, general manager of OK.gov, did not return several phone calls last week to comment for this story.
Slater said he has no reason to believe the reports that appear on the agency's website — www.ok.gov/oec/ — are inaccurate. It's just that some reports aren't showing up.
“It's not that the information is incorrect, it's being able to locate it and identify it,” he said.
Slater said the Ethics Commission's software, which is about seven years old, is causing a variety of problems.
• A search of gifts given by lobbyists during the last six months of 2012 shows no results for Oklahoma State University, even though it provided $100 discounts on football season tickets to 33 lawmakers. OSU provided paperwork showing it submitted its report three days before the Jan. 20 deadline. OSU is not listed as providing $3,300 in discounts on the Ethics Commission's main report and the gifts do not show up during individual searches of lawmakers.
• Information on state Attorney General Scott Pruitt's 2014 campaign didn't show up on the Ethics Commission's website until Friday, even though a campaign spokesman said the reports were filed Thursday afternoon.
“Everybody works on a deadline to get things filed and you certainly don't like a story saying that it wasn't available,” said Pruitt's campaign consultant, Pat McFerron with CMA Strategies.
• The Rev. Steve Kern, a Republican candidate for state Senate District 40, said he went to the Ethics Commission's office to file his organizational papers on May 13. Yet when he tried to file his campaign report last week, he was told he hadn't filed his organizational papers. The Ethics Commission staff eventually found it and posted it online Monday.
“There has been some confusion going on there,” Kern said.
Contenders seeking state or legislative office are to file their organizational committee forms before they raise or spend $500 or more. Kern has bought campaign materials, causing some to question why he hadn't filed his committee organizational papers.
Slater said other problems include candidates who are unable to file campaign fundraising and expenditure activities each quarter as required by law. When they call up the forms, usually the latest amount of funds they have on hand doesn't appear and they can't put in any other information.
Slater said Ethics Commission staff members can put in the information because they are administrators of the software program. At first, he discouraged staff from typing in changes, but relaxed that policy if the candidates send an email stating they authorized the changes.
From Feb. 1 through Monday, 45 candidates have given their permission for the Ethics Commission staff to input their data, he said.
“We have had trouble with lobbyists reporting also,” Slater said.
Slater said he would prefer a software system similar to that used by the Federal Election Commission and other states.
Data provided by candidates and lobbyists under the existing system is stored on the state's servers, he said. He prefers a system that would allow candidates and lobbyists to download the software on their computers. With that type of system, they would be able to work on their forms privately and send it to the Ethics Commission when they were finished; because their information now is posted all the time on the agency's website, some can view that data before it is finalized.
“Nobody can change it,” Slater said.
A new software system also would allow the public to perform various searches and sort the data much easier, he said.
Lawmakers in 2008 appropriated $50,000 to the Ethics Commission to buy software similar to that used by federal election officials. A spokesman for Senate Republicans at the time said new software was needed because they have received numerous complaints that the Ethics Commission's electronic campaign reporting software is seriously flawed and does not properly function.
The previous executive director of the Ethics Commission said the software was not needed and would be too expensive, saying a representative of the company that administers the agency's campaign reporting system estimated new software could cost $750,000, and first-year costs to implement it could be another $250,000.
The $50,000 instead was used to help provide 30 percent raises for five of the agency's seven staff members.
It's the worst I've ever seen — it's not user-friendly. It's very difficult for everybody to figure out how it got that way.”
Oklahoma Ethics Commission executive director, speaking about the agency's reporting software