After publishing his own, most recent campaign finance report on the Precinct 1 website, County Commissioner Hugh Coleman proposed this week that the other commissioners do the same.
Coleman told fellow commissioners during their regular meeting Tuesday that he has been visiting with the county elections office about posting campaign finance reports online.
If the county’s population reaches 1 million people, the posting would be required by state law. Denton County’s population, as of March 2012, is about 683,000, according to the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
Denton County Elections Administrator Frank Phillips told the commissioners during Tuesday’s meeting that it would be possible for the office to publish the reports beginning this summer, after it rolls out a new website in July.
County Judge Mary Horn encouraged the elections office to go further, and also publish the personal financial statements filed by candidates and officeholders. Denton County and the city of Denton have reached population thresholds that require many public officials to report their financial activity for the previous year.
County officials file their campaign finance reports with Phillips and their personal financial statements with the county clerk. Phillips said he has reviewed the statute that governs personal financial statements under the county jurisdiction and that it was not clear that posting them online would work. The law requires the record holder to keep a log of anyone who views the statements.
The city’s record holders and the state’s have the same requirement.
The Texas Ethics Commission collects personal financial statements for many state officials, both appointed and elected, but does not publish them online. That includes statements from district judges and district attorneys. The ethics commission also is required to keep a log of people who view statements within a year of their filing, according to Tim Sorrells, general counsel for the commission.
As for the campaign finance reports, Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell said she wanted to check with other elected officials to make sure it was acceptable to them that those reports be published online.
Phillips said his office could publish up to two years’ worth of reports for each officeholder.
“It could save time for employees who are taking the calls now from people wanting copies of the reports,” Phillips said.
In an interview, Coleman said that when he proposed a little more “sunshine” on campaign finance reports, he didn’t know he had proposed it during Sunshine Week.
Sunshine Week is a national effort of journalists and open government advocates to promote public access to government records each year in March. Sunshine Week began Sunday and ends Friday.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org