For Immediate Release Contact: Ron Harris January 2, 1998 Sharon Snyder Ian Stirton Kelly Huff
WASHINGTON-The Federal Election Commission today released the results of a survey of reporting political committees regarding electronic filing of financial disclosure forms.
An independent consulting firm commissioned by the FEC sent survey questionnaires to a sample of over 1,000 of the myriad political committees (PACs, parties, and Congressional campaigns) registered with the FEC and received responses from 69 percent of those. The answers confirmed that most of the committees-some 85 percent of the respondents-have access to computers in their committee or campaign operations. Three-fourths of the computerized committees have access to modems, and two-thirds of those committees can reach the Internet.
Bottom-line results of the survey indicate that the filing community has the basic infrastructure to take advantage of a voluntary electronic filing program for campaign disclosure reports, and there is generally a positive attitude about filing reports to the Federal Election Commission by that method.
The survey also shows, however, that while some 20 percent of filers use computer software specifically purchased for bookkeeping and preparation of FEC reports, 66 percent of all filers continue to prepare their disclosure reports manually and 6 in 10 filers who have computers file manually. Still, some 48 percent of all respondents stated they believe electronic filing would give the public easier and more rapid access to campaign finance information, and 70 percent indicated that electronic filing should save them time, after the initial setup.
Respondents to the survey were divided in their preferences over alternative methods of submitting reports electronically. Over half of the respondents preferred a dedicated modem-based system in order to direct-dial into the FEC's computers, while the remaining respondents were split between mailing computer diskettes and utilizing Internet e-mail as the transmission vehicle. A primary concern of many respondents was ensuring the authenticity and security of reports transmitted over the Internet.
To accomodate filers, enhancements to the FEC's voluntary electronic filing system, due for implementation in February, will incorporate all three alternatives.
Congress passed Public Law 104-79 in December 1995, instructing the FEC to develop and implement a voluntary electronic filing system that would allow political committees to file FEC reports electronically rather than on paper. Since its inception in 1975, the FEC had received all disclosure reports on paper, which then required some time to complete the data coding and entry process to the Commission's database.
In the 1995-96 election cycle, for example, more than 8,000 committees filed financial reports with the FEC on a monthly, quarterly, or semi-annual basis, all in hard-copy format. That resulted in nearly 2 million detailed entries made to the agency's disclosure database, requiring over 30 days per reporting period to complete the coding and entry process.
During 1996, the FEC took the necessary first steps in an electronic filing program, which included promulgating regulations, providing technical support to software companies, establishing format specifications for different types of FEC report data, developing internal systems to receive and process filings, and developing various methods and techniques for disclosing and disseminating information electronically by the differing community of filers. As of January 1, 1997, the Commission was capable of accepting electronic filing.
In mid-1997, the FEC began receiving reports on computer diskettes from those committees desiring to do so. Currently there are nine committees filing by that method (see FEC Webpage http://www.fec.gov). In October of 1997, the Commission offered its own software program, at no cost to committees, that allows committees to electronically maintain their records and generate reports.
The report concludes, "...the results of the FEC Survey for Electronic Filing illustrate the variation in computer capabilities and attitudes within the filing community. However, they also underscore the high level of computerization and the positive attitude that most FEC filers have toward the electronic filing of disclosure reports. ...With this information, the FEC is in a much better position to develop an electronic filing system that fits the needs and capabilities of the filing community as well as the needs of the Commission."
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Copies of the "Survey for Electronic Filing, Final Report" are available to the media through the FEC Press Office, 202-219-4155, and can also be found on the FEC Website.