With the 2021 primary in the books and a November general election fast approaching, two of the four Philadelphia collar counties say they will explore increasing transparency by putting past campaign finance filings online.

Broad + Liberty began inquiring with local counties about their campaign finance transparency policies after seeking out past reports for the current members of the Delaware County Council. The county said that a Right-to-Know request should be filed first, which could delay the transfer of the documents by up to 35 days.

Currently, only Montgomery County has a dedicated webpage hosting previous campaign finance filings, where anyone can download or view the documents anytime online. But officials in Bucks, Chester, and Delaware Counties are expressing interest in adopting similar standards.

“The suggestion is sound and consistent with operating more transparently,” said Delaware County Executive Director Howard Lazarus. “Council will have staff review what it will take to adopt best practices in this area.”

“I am totally in favor of it, and I think there is definite interest in our doing this ASAP,” said Bucks County Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia, who chairs the three-person board.

“While Chester County does not currently make campaign finance reports available online, we are exploring this idea, along with countless others, to improve the public’s ability to interact with County government,” said Chester County spokesperson Rebecca Brain.

Campaign finance filings are intended to be viewed by the public, so they should not need a legal review in the same way other government documents might require.

Campaign finance filings are intended to be viewed by the public, so they should not need a legal review in the same way other government documents might require.

Candidates for county office are held to the same requirements as candidates for state office, such as someone running for a state representative or state senate seat. However, the county officers only file their finance reports to the county. They do not upload them to the Department of State campaign finance database like a state candidate would.

The Montgomery County website provides a good illustration of why making the reports instantly accessible could be important.

The website currently contains old campaign finance reports for Josh Shapiro from his 2011 run for Montgomery County Commissioner. Shapiro is currently the Pennsylvania attorney general, and is widely believed to be a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor or U.S. Senator in 2022.

Making Shapiro’s filings instantly accessible will aid journalists and citizens in analyzing his political history.

The same holds true for current Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale, a Republican who has already announced he is running for governor in the 2022 election.

“Kudos to Montgomery County for posting its council members’ campaign filings online, and to Chester and Bucks counties for considering it,” said Susan Schwartz, president of the Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition. “ It’s a good service to citizens, the county and council members.” (Schwartz’s comment came before Delaware County had indicated it would explore putting its filings online).

‘The best government is government that operates in the open — these counties are lighting the way for others.’

“With this policy, county staff members don’t have to repeatedly look up and copy the information for people who want it. Council members don’t have to worry about rumors spreading about where they’re getting their funding. And citizens are able to easily get answers to their questions about who is paying to elect their representatives and potential conflicts of interest. The best government is government that operates in the open — these counties are lighting the way for others.”

Disclosure: Todd Shepherd is a director with the Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition.

Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at tshepherd at broadandliberty.com, or use his encrypted email at shepherdreports at protonmail.com.

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