Back in September of last year, I went on television and called the Government Accountability Board the most “bumbling bureaucracy” possible. As it turns out, I may have been giving them too much credit.
Perhaps you remember the love letter the GAB sent to themselves in the form of a self-congratulatory press release in December. In this letter, they patted themselves on the back for the great job they’ve done in spending $1 million to put together a state finance website.
What they didn’t mention, and what I pointed out at the time, is that the Elections Division is nearly a decade late in delivering an electronic campaign finance system that works. They have spent millions since 1999 in trying to come up with a program that a first-year computer science student at the UW could develop.
In the last couple of days, campaigns have begun to use the new system, and have found it to be incomprehensible. It runs extremely slow, is replete with bugs and broken links, and doesn’t work properly with the Firefox browser. On top of that, the system has crashed, so reports cannot be filed on time. In response, GAB Elections Division director Kevin Kennedy issued this CYA letter today:
A number of Legislators have raised concerns about the Government Accountability Board’s new Campaign Finance Information System and the staff’s responsiveness to problems that you or your campaign treasurers have encountered. Although we anticipated that there would be problems and concerns with any new system, we have been surprised by the number. We apologize for the anxiety this has created.
We want to assure you that we are committed to having a user-friendly, intuitive reporting system that will, at the same time, bring to the citizens of this State enhanced transparency and unprecedented accessibility to information about the financing of political campaigns in Wisconsin.
Translation: remember that expensive new system we were bragging about a month ago? Well, it’s completely hosed.
In the release, Kennedy throws out more excuses, like “there really is no good time to introduce a new reporting system.” Perhaps he has forgotten this press release he issued in November that brags about the system being tested and ready to go:
“The new system will be ready for public use at the beginning of 2009,” said Kevin Kennedy, Director of the Government Accountability Board. “This will be a giant step forward for public information about campaign spending in Wisconsin.”
“Development of the new system has gone well,” said Jonathan Becker, Ethics and Accountability Division Administrator. “We expect all candidates and committees registered with the State to use the CFIS to report for the period ending December 31, 2008.”
Yep, nothing to see here – the thing’s running smooth as a gravy sandwich. Until people actually had to start using it.
And if that’s not enough, blogger Dan Cody did the Lord’s work and actually started looking through the bids made by businesses to get the contract with the GAB. As it turns out, the bungled system cost twice as much as we were originally told:
To say $2 million for a web site that has less functionality than my weblog is an understatement. After spending a considerable amount of time going over the documents I got from the GAB in response to my open records request, it became clear to me that PCC Technology Group was, to put it mildly, fleecing the people of Wisconsin.
Boy, if only someone could have seen this coming. The lesson here is simple: Every dollar sent to the GAB is akin to lighting that dollar on fire. Amazingly, this is the bureaucracy we charge with running clean and orderly elections. Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, does it?
Oh, and one last thing – if they could get the campaign finance reports from NOVEMBER up on their website, that would be great. You know, those things that are supposed to provide us with transparency in elections.