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PA Bulletin, Doc. No. 97-1598



Request for Information Regarding Campaign Finance Reporting Software

[27 Pa.B. 5146]


   On May 20, 1997, Governor Tom Ridge and Secretary of the Commonwealth Yvette Kane unveiled the Ridge Administration's initiative for disclosure of campaign finance information to the public through electronic filing and posting of campaign contribution and expense reports. The initiative is funded by a $370,000 appropriation requested by the Governor and approved by the General Assembly for the current fiscal year. The Department of State (Department) and its administrative head, Secretary Kane, are responsible for planning and implementing the initiative.

   Through a Request for Information (RFI) the Department is seeking comment from computer software vendors regarding the development of campaign contribution and expense report software. In particular, the Department is asking vendors to critique the format and specifications for reporting software that it proposes to mandate, which are briefly summarized. Vendors may also inform the Department whether they intend to make their products compatible with the Department's software specifications, and thereby enable their customers to produce reports on diskette for filing with the Department.

   Persons interested in reviewing or responding to the RFI may obtain a copy of the RFI and its attach- ments by contacting Deputy Secretary Jeffrey Logan, 302 North Office Building, Commonwealth Avenue and North Street, Harrisburg, PA 17120, (717) 787-3796, facsimile number (717) 787-1734, or by e-mail at ''''

Purpose and Goals of the Campaign Finance Disclosure Initiative

   The purpose of the initiative is to put the Commonwealth in the forefront of the states in providing accurate, timely information to the public about political campaign contributions and expenditures. The initiative also furthers Governor Ridge's commitment to provide greater public access to information maintained by the government in a more ''user-friendly'' manner.

   Beginning with the primary election cycle in the Spring of 1998, the campaign contribution and expense reports filed by all candidates for Statewide office (that is, Governor and Lieutenant Governor) and their campaign committees will be posted on the Commonwealth's Internet homepage for public inspection. The Department is currently developing an electronic campaign finance database with auxiliary components necessary for processing the database information and posting it to the web.

   Initially, the Department will accept campaign contribution and expense reports for electronic filing only on micro diskette. The Department is exploring the possibility of accepting the reports via modem or some other form of electronic file transfer in the future. In order to facilitate the timely, accurate and efficient disclosure of campaign finance data on the Internet, the Governor and the Secretary have publicly advocated that the 1998 primary candidates for Statewide office and their committees file their reports on diskette.

   Information obtained from paper form filings will have to be manually entered into the database. Since manual data entry is expensive and time-consuming, it is in the interests of both public information and government efficiency that as many candidates as possible adopt diskette filing as early as possible. One of the ultimate goals of the initiative is to make diskette filing preferable to paper form filing.

   Another of the Administration's goals is to post on the Internet all candidate and committee reports filed with the Department by the year 2000. There are approximately 12,000 campaign finance reports filed with the Department each year.

Pennsylvania's Campaign Finance Reporting System

   The Campaign Expense Reporting Law (law) (25 P. S. §§ 3241-3260b) governs the disclosure of contribution and expenditure information in Pennsylvania elections. The Law defines contributions and expenditures, identifies the candidates and political committees required to file reports, establishes a schedule of reporting, prohibits the making of contributions or expenditures by certain entities and creates a system of enforcement.

   The Secretary of the Commonwealth is the official responsible for administering certain aspects of the law Statewide and the supervisor of campaign finance reporting by candidates for Statewide office, the General Assembly and most judicial offices, as well as the committees established to support those candidates. The campaign finance disclosure initiative encompasses only those reports that are filed with the Secretary in the Department's Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation. Most candidates for local government office and their affiliated committees file reports at the county level.

   The Secretary has the authority, among other things, to prescribe the forms for the various reports and statements required by the law. Filers who submit their contribution and expense reports on diskette in the approved format will no longer have to use or file the Department's paper ''Campaign Expense Report'' form (Form DSEB-502). However, for the purposes of authentication, a diskette filer will be required to submit a one-page affidavit form bearing the required original signatures.

   The Secretary has prescribed other types of registration and report forms for the use of candidates and committees. The Department does not immediately intend to accept diskette filing of these other forms. However, the Department is hopeful that vendors will provide software that enables their clients to complete and print hard copies of the other types of forms.

Summary of Proposed Software Format and Specifications for Diskette Filing

   The Department proposes to accept a contribution and expense report on diskette in lieu of a paper Form DSEB-502 only if the format and content of the diskette meets the Department's technical specifications. Vendors should be aware that the specifications, as set forth in the following, are still in the proposal stage and are subject to revision before final approval and publication.

   A report must be submitted on a 3.5 inch micro diskette formatted for 1.44 megabyte capacity. Only MS-DOS/Windows compatible diskettes will be accepted. If necessary, a single report may be submitted on more than one diskette.

   All data files must use the ASCII character set. All data files must be coma (,) delimited, that is, a coma must separate all fields in the data files. All data files must be text qualified with double quotation marks ('' ''), that is, any field defined as alphanumeric, and only a field so defined, must be enclosed by double quotation marks. A sample of the mandatory data file format is provided as follows:

   1234, ''Mary Jones'', 150.00, ''123 East Main Street'', ''Anytown'', ''PA'', ''171021234''

   In this sample, there are seven fields. The first field is a numeric registration number field, followed by an alphanumeric name field, a numeric dollar amount field, an alphanumeric address field, an alphanumeric city field, an alphanumeric state code field, and finally, an alphanumeric zip code field.

   A diskette may contain up to five data files, as follows:

   * The FILER.TXT file will store basic information about the candidate or committee filing the report. This file must be included in all diskette reports.

   * The file designated CONTRIB.TXT will consist of a separate record for each monetary or in-kind contribution received from a contributor who, during the reporting period, made one or more contributions to the candidate or committee in an aggregate amount or value in excess of $50. This file must also be included in all reports submitted on diskette.

   * The RECEIPT.TXT file will consist of a separate record for each receipt obtained by the candidate or committee during the reporting period that was not a monetary or in-kind contribution. Examples of the receipts to be included in this file are interest income, loans and refunds. If the candidate or committee obtains no receipts during the reporting period, this file need not be included in the diskette report.

   * EXPENSE.TXT will consist of a separate record for each expenditure made by the candidate or committee during the reporting period. This file must also be included in all reports submitted on diskette.

   * The DEBT.TXT file will consist of a separate record for each unpaid debt or obligation of the candidate or committee that remains outstanding as of the end of the reporting period. If there are no outstanding debts or obligations as of the end of the reporting period, this file need not be included in the diskette report.

   Multiple campaign finance reports may be filed at one time. For example, a candidate's report may be submitted along with the report of an associated political committee. In the case of multiple filings, the FILER.TXT file must contain one record for each candidate or committee that is submitting a report, and there must be separate CONTRIB.TXT, RECEIPT.TXT, EXPENSE.TXT and DEBT.TXT files for each candidate or committee. If a multiple filing is too large to fit on one diskette, the required files may be put on more than one diskette. However, no single text file may span more than one diskette.

   The RFI includes the following attachments that provide detailed information about the proposed software specifications and the campaign finance reporting system:

   * Appendix A, which is a copy of the Department's informational pamphlet entitled ''Campaign Expense Reporting Law,'' which includes the text of the Law;

   * Appendix B, which is a copy of the basic paper form approved by the Secretary for the reporting of contributions and expenditures, Form DSEB-502 (revised 12/85);

   * Appendix C, which contains copies of other basic forms prescribed by the Secretary for the use of filers;

   * Appendix D, a chart listing 1998 election dates and the campaign finance reporting schedule for 1998, which is representative of the Law's annual reporting regimen;

   * Appendix E, which contains detailed file layouts and specifications for each of the five data files listed above and completion instructions for the fields within each file;

   * Appendix F, which contains lists of the county codes, election cycle report codes, expense codes, party codes and office codes that candidates and committees must use to complete certain fields in a campaign contribution and expense report on diskette.

General Response Guidelines

   The following is a list of topics that the Department encourages software vendors to discuss in their responses to the RFI:

   * Are you willing and able to make your products compatible with the Department's proposed software format and specifications, and thereby enable diskette filing by your customers who must file reports with the Department?

   * If the answer to the above question is ''yes,'' can you make and distribute the necessary software modifications prior to the 1998 Primary Election reporting cycle? If the answer to the above question is ''no,'' why not? Would your answer be different if the Department were to change its proposed filing format or specifications in any way?

   * Do you have any comments regarding the structure of the Department's proposed electronic filing format, and can you suggest any modifications to improve or simplify campaign contribution and expense reporting on diskette?

   * Are there necessary files or fields missing from the Department's proposed specifications? Should any of the fields be enlarged to accomodate more characters?

   * Are the Department's proposed instructions for completing the fields clear and adequate?

   * Do you have any comments regarding the proposed filing codes? Can you recommend additional expense codes that diskette filers might commonly use?

   This list is not all-inclusive, and the Department welcomes all information and comment on the RFI subject that any vendor wishes to provide. Responding vendors may wish to address only some of the suggested topics or other topics altogether, which is acceptable to the Department.

   All responses to the RFI become the property of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which may use the responses for any purpose without incurring any obligation to compensate or seek the approval of any vendor. In order to be considered, a response must be received at the Pennsylvania Department of State, Attention: Deputy Secretary Jeffrey Logan, 302 North Office Building, Commonwealth Avenue and North Street, Harrisburg, PA 17120, on or before 5 p.m. prevailing time on Monday, October 20, 1997. Any questions regarding the RFI may be directed to Deputy Secretary Logan at the above address, (717) 787-3796, facsimile number (717) 787-1734, or by e-mail at ''''

   The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania sincerely appreciates the vendor community's interest in this important and worthwhile effort to improve the dissemination of campaign finance information to the public.

Secretary of the Commonwealth

[Pa.B. Doc. No. 97-1598. Filed for public inspection October 3, 1997, 9:00 a.m.]

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