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Outdated software plagues Oklahoma Ethics Commission

Some candidate and lobbyist financial reports can't be located on the Oklahoma Ethics Commission's website because of software glitches, the agency's executive director says. He will be asking lawmakers to provide funds to buy new software.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Modified: August 4, 2013 at 11:00 am •  Published: August 3, 2013

• 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.