Detroit Free Press
  Thursday, August 12, 2010

 
Editorial
  Macomb Co. is a leader in
campaign finance reporting
 

Transparency in government means, above all, the ability to follow the money. That's why campaign finance laws are important to an open and accountable political process. Still, even those laws are of little value if public officials don't make the reports easy to get.

County clerks looking for ways to make campaign finance reports accessible should check out Macomb County. Last month, County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh created an easy, user-friendly online site to disclose local campaign finance reports. It should become a model for all of Michigan's 83 counties. Users can simply type a candidate's name and click "search" to get a list of contributors and how much they gave.

The site is the state's most transparent for reporting local races -- and it goes far beyond the requirements of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act, said Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. "They've made it easy for their citizens to look at who's giving what to whom," he said.

Many counties do not post such records online, forcing people to go down to county offices during business hours. Macomb's online site not only posts the campaign finance reports but also makes them searchable by name, contributor, campaign committee or even the contributor's employer. For a look, go to: www.macombcountymi.gov/clerksoffice/electiondept.htm.

Local races such as county commission, city council, township supervisor, mayor and county executive are becoming increasingly costly. They should get the same oversight and scrutiny as state and federal campaigns.

Candidates for Secretary of State should examine Macomb County's site and propose ways, such as providing uniform software, to replicate it throughout Michigan. Ideally, each county's reports would be linked to other local and state data bases.

Sabaugh -- a leader in using the Internet to make her office more convenient to the public -- has shown how public officials can make getting campaign finance reports, and following the money, a snap.