Testimony of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign on the Campaign Finance Information System (CFIS)

Assembly Committee on Elections and Campaign Reform, September 1, 2009

September 1, 2009

We have as much experience using the state’s online Campaign Finance Information System as anyone. One of the members of our staff uses it every day, another uses it nearly every day and two others use it regularly.

For the better part of a year now, everyone has been told that CFIS is a work in progress and wrinkles are being ironed out and its performance is improving. But the truth is the system still is a mess. It is an elaborate and overly complex system weighted down with bells and whistles. To accommodate all its features, functionality and useability have been sacrificed. We have heard from a large number of candidates, campaign treasurers and representatives of political committees that CFIS is exceedingly difficult to use.

Electronic filing of campaign finance reports is supposed to make it easier for citizens to gain access to these public records. We can say from personal experience that it is now harder and more time consuming for citizens to gain access to public records pertaining to how campaigns are financed than it was under the old system. Attached to this testimony are two reports (one available online here and the other here) the Democracy Campaign issued in June illustrating the delays in access to records experienced under CFIS.

Even more troubling is the fact that the data on the system cannot be completely trusted. Attached to our testimony are two more reports – one issued in February and the other in March – documenting erroneous information posted for public consumption on CFIS. Among our findings are hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of mislabeled or wrongly reported campaign contributions and expenses, as well as incorrect spending, fundraising and cash balance figures. We know of these inaccuracies because we cross-checked the data posted on CFIS against paper reports and other records from the campaign committees.

Disturbingly, some of the inaccurate information we called attention to in our February report still has not been corrected seven months later. And these are not small errors that remain uncorrected. They involve more than $178,000 in contributions and nearly $125,000 in campaign expenses. Likewise, several inaccuracies we pointed out six months ago in our March report still have not been corrected. Among these are a discrepancy of nearly $1 million in Governor Jim Doyle’s fundraising in 2008 and incorrect fundraising and spending figures for the first half of 2006 for Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. In the attorney general’s case corrections were made to the July 2006 report posted on CFIS after our report was issued, but the amended information still doesn’t square with the correct report that is still posted on the old electronic reporting system.