Thursday, November 23, 2006

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: A THANKSGIVING TURKEY

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
November 23, 2006



A turkey that came way before Thanksgiving is the Secretary of State’s Web site, specifically the campaign contribution reports page.

Two weeks ago in this column I noted that just a very small handful of the reports that were due on Nov. 2 were actually posted on the site. Among statewide races the only ones there were those of the gubernatorial candidates.

I sarcastically suggested that someone ought to take the software used for this site back to Toys “R” Us and demand a refund. Vastly overestimating my own influence, I assumed that ridiculing this useless site would shame the office into fixing the problem.

Guess what ...

As of Wednesday afternoon — nearly three weeks after the reports were filed and more than two weeks since the election — there are still only the gubernatorial candidates’ reports on the site and still just a tiny fraction of the others.

That’s right, it’s impossible to use the Internet to track most of the campaign contributions given to New Mexico politicians since early October.

There’s no note of explanation or apology on the site. Just this lame message that’s been up there for weeks: “ Not all reports that have been submitted appear on this page. The Secretary of State's staff will link missing submitted reports to this page ASAP.”

ASAP now appears to be WHFO.

A spokesman for the secretary of state said Wednesday he doesn’t know what the problem is. “I know we have a server that’s down,” said Ray Baray. But for three weeks?

State Sen. Dede Feldman, who sponsored the legislation to create the electronic filing system as well as several other bills to improve public access to campaign finance records, said Wednesday she finds the delay “very disturbing.”

“It’s not that they don’t have the money,” she said. She made sure the secretary of state got a special appropriation to get the system going.

“The secretary of state’s timely operation of this system is the lynch pin,” Feldman said.

Remember, the public posting of these reports isn’t just some nice gift from the Secretary of State’s office like free milk and cookies. It’s required by law.

And though having campaign reports available on line is indeed a convenience to reporters, it’s not just a convenience to reporters. It’s supposed to be the right of every citizen to be able to easily inspect these documents without having to drive to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Of course our election laws, routinely scorned by national watchdog groups as weak and ineffective, provide little if any recourse for this failure. Indeed, Feldman noted, there is nothing in the law about deadlines.

Feldman said she’d like to see a “real-time” system, when a report would appear on the Web site right after it’s filed.

“It would be great to have real-time reporting, but right now we’re not even doing un-real time,” she said.

For what it’s worth, the final reports for campaign 2006 are due a week from today.

Got it Maid: It’s been a couple of weeks since the election but some of us still hear negative campaign ads echoing in our nightmares.

The attack ad that’s stuck in my ad was Republican secretary of state candidate Vickie Perea’s shocking revelation that her Democratic opponent — and eventual winner — Mary Herrera, on some official junket as Bernalillo County clerk had charged a cup of Starbucks coffee and a hotel room with maid service to taxpayers.

Maybe I’m missing something here, but I’d be more worried about public officials staying in a hotel that doesn’t have maid service.

And if Herrera can fix the secretary of state’s web site to make it run like it should by the next election, I’ll personally buy her a cup of any caffeinated beverage she’d like.

Only one year, 11 months and a few days until the 2008 election: Everyone anxiously is awaiting Gov. Bill Richardson’s big announcement in January.

That would be his long-promised position on cockfighting. Will he stand up for the gamebird industry and announce a bold initiative to make New Mexico a destination cockfighting capital?

Oh yeah, some people also are interested in his other promised announcement — whether he’s going to seek the presidency.

A CNN poll released this week shows Richardson’s got some work to do.

The poll shows Richardson in a tie with U.S. Sen. Joe Biden for seventh place. Both got three percent of the vote.

To nobody’s surprise, Sen. Hillary Clinton is ahead with 33 percent. The next tier includes Sen. Barack Obama 15 percent and former Vice President Al Gore and former Sen. John Edwards, who each got 14 percent. The single digit contenders include Sen. John Kerry, the party’s 2004 nominee (7 percent), retired Gen. Wesley Clark (4 percent), Sen. Evan Bayh (2 percent) and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (1 percent.)

For the poll, Opinion Research Corp. conducted telephone interviews with 530 registered voters who describe themselves as Democrats or independents who lean to the Democratic Party. The margin of error is plus or minus four percent.

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP!
It was Thanksgiving Day 2001 when the first Roundhouse Roundup was published in The New Mexican. It started off as a joint effort between myself and my then Capitol Bureau partner Jonathan McDonald, who has since moved to Montana.

I still love doing it, and I'm thankful to all you readers who have offered encouraging words about the column.

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