Just in time for this year’s gubernatorial and legislative elections, the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission has updated its website to make it easier for the public to keep track of how candidates are funding their campaigns.
The new site, located at the same address also gives people the ability to track lobbying activities and spending and monitor campaign contributions made by government contractors.
“We think the new website offers many advantages,” said Jeffrey Brindle, ELEC’s executive director. “The homepage is simpler and makes it easier to find a topic. The site offers significant new search tools. And it allows for more convenient viewing on laptops, tablets, and smart phones.”
Although the old website had a vast amount of information, including a contributor search, much of the information was in the form of reports that had to be downloaded, opened, and examined. While these reports still can be downloaded, the agency has added more user-friendly searches for contributions and spending data. Those searches allow people to drill down more deeply in a way that was previously available only through the use of a spreadsheet or database program.
First foray online
ELEC first launched a website in 1997. While the site was full of information, it could be hard to get to and the campaign or lobbying data was not always in an easy-to-use format. A more user-friendly and more powerful website was a long-time wish.
“To truly accomplish our goal of bringing ELEC into everyone’s homes, we knew we had to improve,” Brindle said.
After unsuccessfully trying to make their case for an upgrade for several years, agency officials were able to get a special $2 million appropriation two years ago. The work was done on time and under budget.
Brindle said the upgrade “will keep the agency in the national vanguard for many years.”
Currently, the most up-to-date information available, essentially in real time, is for gubernatorial candidates, nearly all of whom are filing their campaign data electronically. Within the next year, virtually all candidates and political committees should be filing electronically, as well.
Electronic filing allows for detailed searches, which give a user the ability to search by employer, job, and other categories. A search now also will show a summary of expenses or contributions that will include the top individual contributors, top business contributors, and top occupations of contributors.
Another new feature allows people to search for candidate reports by clicking on a map of legislative districts or counties, which will provide an easy way to find all candidates in a given race.
Website visitors can also now do sophisticated queries on information contained in quarterly lobbying reports. For instance, a user can enter a bill number and how lobbyists are working to support or defeat the bill. Previously, this information was only available by looking through reports on the site.
The site also looks better, whether viewed on a computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.
“It’s responsive and easily viewable and usable, regardless of the device a person is using,” said Anthony Giancarli, ELEC’s IT director.
ELEC’s site includes many older documents, as well. These include all commission meeting minutes, advisory opinions, press releases, and annual reports. The agency is also one of the few in the nation that enables the public to search contributions to local officials. And thousands of disclosure reports filed by public contractors since 2006 are available online, along with spreadsheets containing information from those reports.
There’s a help section on the site. Anyone with questions about using the new website can contact ELEC’s help desk at 609-292-8700 or toll free within New Jersey at 1-888-313-ELEC (3532).