NEW DISCLOSURE SYSTEM CREATING HEADACHES FOR LOBBYISTS
By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JULY 11, 2019.....With lobbyists and their clients staring down a Monday deadline to file public disclosures for the first half of the year, a new online reporting system implemented by Secretary of State William Galvin's office last month has been making life difficult for some influence peddlers on Beacon Hill.
Multiple lobbyists told the News Service that over the course of the past week they've tried to input their data -- including bills that they're lobbying on, expenditures for clients and campaign contributions -- only to be unable to save their work, have the system crash or see their data erased.
"The thing is a cluster...," said one frustrated lobbyist. "It's a huge process and a huge time commitment. We'll be lucky to have a working draft by the weekend."
Reports for some of the larger lobbying firms in the state can run hundreds of pages long, and the penalties for late filings start at $50 a day for the first week and grow to $100 after July 20.
While a larger firm may be able to absorb some fines, one person who works in the industry said they've seen the bills mount for smaller clients, including non-profits, who are less familiar with their responsibilities to report.
"I don't think anybody has a problem reporting but the system was already onerous, and now I spent half my day with it just today and they can't even have a save function that works. Clients are freaking out," said the lobbyist.
Galvin's office acknowledged issues with the system on Wednesday, and said it's mostly affecting larger lobbying firms with extensive information to enter.
"We have had a couple of reports of timeout issues experienced by a select few entities that have very large disclosures to file. We have reached out to our vendor and they hope to have a solution very soon," said Galvin spokeswoman Deb O'Malley.
The News Service was unable to immediately learn who built the online reporting system or how much Galvin's office paid.
Lobbyists working for firms of various sizes, however, reported experiencing similar problems, including system crashes that caused them to lose the data they had entered.
One lobbyist at a smaller firm said she was able to successfully file her disclosure Wednesday, but only after multiple crashes over two days and having the "save" button disappear after she had entered her information.
O'Malley said that with the deadline to file more than five days away Galvin was not considering a "blanket extension at this time," but would consider granting extensions "as needed" for entities having difficulty uploading their disclosures.
The transition to the new reporting system is part of a long-term project to "make the system more intuitive and user friendly" for filers and the public using the Secretary of State's website to search for lobbyist and client information, according to O'Malley.
Galvin's website indicates that the transition to the new system was made in late June, and that disclosures for 2018 and earlier will remain on the old system.
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