Voters are supposed to be able to log onto the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance web site before an election and see who's funding the candidates.
Disappointment awaited voters who did that in the Lexington mayor's race. Several candidates' campaign finance reports, including one of the eventual winners', Ronnie Bastin's, never made it online before Tuesday's election.
Why? The campaigns did not file the reports electronically, and the Registry is so understaffed that it was impossible to manually enter all of the data in time for the election. (Yes, we're talking about state employees typing in names, addresses, numbers from reports that sometimes are handwritten and hard to decipher.)
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, who has raised $1.5 million for his re-election, did not file electronically. The Registry managed to get his report up by election day, but there was a needless delay in the availability of the information to the public.
Reports from candidates who file electronically automatically download and are online the next day. The software for e-filing costs a campaign less than $200.
Why, you may logically wonder, in 2018 aren't all candidates filing electronically?
Why, especially, aren't candidates who raise hundreds of thousands of dollars (more than $300,000 by Bastin) reporting in the most transparent way possible?
The short answer is the legislature has never required it.
That should change.
The Registry, which is responsible for enforcing the state's campaign-finance laws, has lost a third of its funding and staff to budget cuts over the last 10 years.
If the state can't afford to adequately support the agency, the least lawmakers can do is require electronic filing of campaign finance reports, including their own, to make the process much more efficient.
Now only candidates for the seven statewide offices are required to file electronically.
Lawmakers have imposed a 10-day deadline on the Registry for getting legislative candidates' reports online. So getting their hand-filed reports online takes priority over reports from city and county races.
Even the afternoon after the election, there was no online report of who had given to Bastin's campaign during the final pre-election period, only a notation that the report had been received but processing was not complete. Same for candidates Teresa Isaac and Ike Lawrence. (William Weyman was exempt from filing because he planned to spend less than $3,000; Skip Horine did not file any reports.)
The other nominee, Linda Gorton, and fourth-place finisher Kevin Stinnett filed electronically, and anyone could log on and discover who gave them money and how much.
If lawmakers are worried about candidates who must run on a shoestring, they can exempt low-money campaigns from an e-filing requirement.
Kentucky is expecting Medicaid recipients to electronically report changes in income to keep their health care; it's not too much to require candidates to e-file their campaign finance disclosures.
Meanwhile, Bastin, who will face Gorton in the nonpartisan race in November, and other candidates should commit to electronic filing from now on.