by Leah Willingham, Associated Press

Mississippi’s secretary of state could soon face a strict deadline for posting campaign finance reports, a demand the office says it is not equipped to handle without more employees to carry the workload.

A bill that passed the state House earlier this month requires the secretary of state’s office to make campaign finance reports publicly available within a day of receiving them. House Bill 718 also requires circuit clerks to send reports submitted by candidates for county or county district office to the secretary of state’s office within a day.

However, in a statement Friday, Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson said his office is not capable of uploading finance reports in a day. He said doing so would require additional funding to “develop and expand” its system.

“While the Secretary of State’s Office fully supports transparency in all levels of government, it is not reasonable to expect our office to make these reports available online within a day of receipt,” Watson said. “We currently have one full-time employee devoted to Campaign Finance and would need many more to complete this task as the bill is currently written.”

For the 2019 election cycle — consisting of statewide, state district, legislative races, and the political committees supporting or opposing those candidates — the secretary of state’s office posted 2,750 periodic reports, 400 primary pre-election reports, 145 primary pre-runoff reports, 363 general pre-election reports and 450 annual reports, Watson said.

“Scanning reports of this magnitude is nowhere near a one-day task,” Watson said. “Using five minutes per report as an average, working all day, every day, it would take more than eight forty-hour weeks to post this information.”

Additional time is required for contacting individuals, correcting errors, providing guidance, checking lists to see who has and has not filed, he said.

Watson suggested the Legislature instead mandate all finance reports be filed online. He said that change would allow for “a quicker, more transparent process.”

If House Bill 718 were to become law, the new rule would take effect during the 2022 election cycle.
The bill moves to the Senate for more work.