LOCAL CAMPAIGN REPORTS ONLINE/ FINANCIAL INFORMATION FROM 41 OF 87 COMMITTEES POSTED ON COUNTY SITE SO FAR

Wilkes-Barre, Times-Leader

By JENNIFER LEARN-ANDES

Wednesday, January 23, 2008     Page: 5A

WILKES-BARRE – Campaign finance reports are now being posted on the Luzerne County government Web site, giving the public instant access to information on all donations to local political candidates and how that money is spent.

“I’m almost certain we’ll be the first county in the state to offer this,” said county Election Bureau Director Leonard Piazza, who unveiled the plan during Tuesday’s county Election Board meeting.

Before the new service, the public had to visit the office during regular daytime business hours to view the records. Copies were 25 cents per page.

To date, the county has posted reports from 41 of the 87 campaign committees registered in the county. Piazza expects to post the remaining committee reports within a few weeks.

The public will have access to more than the latest filing because the county is posting reports dating back as far as 2004 for each committee.

Eventually, five years of reports on each committee will be stored on the county’s Web site.

Piazza said the online reporting is the final phase of his efforts to streamline campaign finance reports.

The county had 419 campaign finance committees on the books when Piazza became director in 2004. He described many of the committees as “dead wood” because they were inactive and had failed to file necessary reports.

The roster was whittled to 87 because Piazza gave them an ultimatum: Pay late fees and get current on filing reports or close out and relinquish any cash balances to the county. The county received roughly $7,000 from committees that chose close-out. Committees must have no cash or debt to close out.

The county also discarded campaign finance reports dating as far back as the 1980s, keeping only the five years of records mandated by the state, Piazza said.

All committees must submit 2007 annual reports by Jan. 31, Piazza said. Some committees that submitted their reports early are already online.

He expects to lose another 10 or so committees that opt to close out rather than file the report on Jan. 31.

Piazza said his office offered training on campaign finance reporting requirements and recently sent a letter to all active committees reminding them of the Jan. 31 deadline. The committees were also alerted that reports will now be posted online.

He plans to recommend the county attempt to recoup all unpaid fees by filing paperwork with district judges.

“It’s not a widespread problem, but we want to make sure people are staying in compliance,” he said.

In other business Tuesday, county Commissioner Chairwoman Maryanne Petrilla was appointed chairwoman, Commissioner Greg Skrepenak became vice chairman and minority Commissioner Stephen A. Urban was named secretary of the election board.

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