Politics & Government

N.C. election laws ‘stuck in pre-computer age’

North Carolina’s campaign finance laws hinder efficient disclosure and enforcement, a campaign finance watchdog said Wednesday.

Democracy North Carolina found that 92 of the state’s 170 legislators filed campaign finance reports this year on paper, not electronically.

“(M)any state legislators are shielding themselves – and their donors – from scrutiny by filing incomplete, misleading, or hard-to-decipher campaign reports,” Bob Hall, the group’s executive director, said in a news release.

Hall argued that electronic reports make it easier for both the public and the state elections board to monitor campaign fundraising and spending.

While his report dealt with state legislators, it mirrored the example of former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon’s campaign reports, which received new scrutiny after his March arrest on federal corruption charges. An Observer review of Cannon’s campaign records since 1999 found reports with misleading, inaccurate and missing information that made it difficult to tell where he got a lot of his money.

In the legislature, some lawmakers file reports electronically. But Hall said most file paper reports that are often incomplete and even hard to read. They also take investigators more time to sift through.

“The paper reports pile up, and years can go by before the poorly funded Board of Elections has a chance to computerize the information and examine it for missing or inaccurate data,” said Hall. “Law enforcement agencies and the public are left in the dark because our campaign reporting laws are stuck in a pre-computer age.”

Enforcement can be a lengthy process. Just last month, the state board of elections sent a letter to Charlotte Democrat Robin Bradford, a candidate for the state House, assessing $750 in penalties for her 2012 legislative campaign.

The state board of elections would get three additional investigators under the House budget. The board already hired former FBI agent Chuck Stuber, who starts at the end of the month.

“The State Board is committed to transparency and devotes significant resources to convert disclosures to enhance public access and improve our review,” elections director Kim Strach said in a statement. “We hope that candidates across our state will make wider use of electronic filing.”