S.F. simplifies campaign disclosure system

S.F. simplifies campaign disclosure system

Web application makes filing financial statements cheaper and easier

By Trudy Walsh

GCN Staff

Officials at the San Francisco Ethics Commission disliked the stopgap electronic campaign disclosure system they had adopted two years ago. All campaigns that receive contributions of $5,000 or more a year must file campaign statements electronically with the commission.

Admittedly, the system was a temporary fix, a spreadsheet with hundreds of fields. 'It was a kludgy fit at best,' said Ron Kane, principal systems engineer for San Francisco's Telecommunications and Information Services Department. And using it took a $2,000 or $3,000 investment in hardware and software, which could be a hardship for a small campaign, Kane said.

San Francisco's Ron Kane put the Ethics Commission campaign disclosure system online in less than three months.

The complexity of the commission's filing requirements didn't help matters either, Kane said. 'It was like filing income taxes for crazy people'you had to list anybody you lent money to, who you spent money on, and itemize non-monetary contributions. The spreadsheets just weren't helping us,' he said.

The commission needed a simpler, less expensive system, something campaign workers could access over the Web from a PC in a county library.

The task of constructing such a system fell to Kane and his crew. Working with Lotus Domino products, Kane and his staff in three months developed the Online Filing System (OLFS) for campaign statements. The Web sites are linked to San Francisco's main CitySpan page, at www.ci.sf.ca.us. Visitors follow links to the Ethics Commission site.

The system, which uses Domino Applications Server Release 5.05 running under Microsoft Windows NT, comprises a pair of servers: a Compaq dual-processor 500-MHz Penitum III ProLiant with 256M of RAM and RAID storage and a 200-MHz Pentium ProLiant with direct-access storage.

The backbone network that connects to these servers is 100Base-FX. The city has two T1 connections to the Web, which it plans to upgrade to two fractional T3 connections, Kane said.

Late last month, Kane and his team moved the Domino Web applications to an IBM AS/400e platform, which provides more horsepower and backup protection via server clustering.

Kane generates paper copies from the Web using Seagate Crystal Reports from Atlas Business Solutions Inc. of Fargo, N.D.

The copy comes out looking exactly like the official financial reporting forms, Kane said.
Star gazing

One feature that has been especially popular is that users can look up specific campaign contributors. The site requires contributors to list their occupations.

'You can do a search on 'actor' and find out how much area celebrities such as Robin Williams have contributed to a campaign,' Kane said.

Almost two years into the online project, campaign workers and election commission officials say that they like it, Kane said. Although the system was designed for small campaigns, some larger campaigns have started using it.

Visitors can check out the demo site at www.ci.sf.ca.us/ethics/olfsdemo/demo.htm.

Kane also formulated an election returns and polling place lookup site for the Elections Department that links to Yahoo's MapBlaster application. The polling place site at www.ci.sf.ca.us/elections gives visitors addresses, directions and maps for polling places.

The election returns portion of the Web site is linked to the city's polling equipment, which is an old MS-DOS system, Kane said. 'So we can only post near- real-time results. City Hall has an agreement not to scoop newspaper sites about election results,' he said.

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