HARRISBURG - It's getting harder to track the millions of dollars that annually flow into the campaign coffers of Pennsylvania politicians, and the state budget crisis is getting the blame.
Funding was eliminated in October for private contractors who for years have punched campaign-finance data from paper reports into the Department of State online database. That stopped the processing, and paper reports have been piling up by the thousands, including those that cover Tuesday's primary election.
"This is solely a budget situation," said department spokesman Ronald Ruman, who predicted the backlog could be cleared in a couple of months if the legislature approves Gov. Corbett's request to restore that appropriation in the fiscal year that starts July 1.
The sum in question is minuscule - $35,000 a year in a proposed state budget of more than $27 billion - but on a larger scale, it's an apt symbol of the stalled debate over campaign-finance reform at the Capitol.
Pennsylvania is one of a minority of states that impose no limits on political contributions from individuals and political committees. Though the state requires candidates' campaigns to report on their finances as often as seven times a year, it does not require the information to be filed electronically or posted online, which the department has done anyway since 1998.
Perennial efforts in the legislature to limit campaign contributions or require electronic filing of reports have gone nowhere.
The department's database is especially valuable to political reporters and citizen watchdogs. It allows them to sift through hundreds of pages and analyze which interest group is giving which candidate how much.
The printed data trapped in the backlog can be reviewed at the department's Harrisburg headquarters, but that's no help to people who live in other parts of the state, and transcribing large amounts of detailed data is cumbersome for anyone.
Ruman said the department would scan reports not yet online and e-mail free copies to people who request them. Hard copies are also available for 25 cents a page, which includes postage.
One activist suggested the situation benefits donors who want to keep a low profile.
"If I'm a big donor and I don't want the public to know what I'm doing right now, then I would file by paper," said James Browning, Mid-Atlantic regional director of Common Cause.
Browning said electronic filing "would be cheaper and faster and easier for everyone."
Of the 11,000 to 12,000 campaign-finance reports filed annually, fewer than one-third are filed electronically. The electronic ones are posted online as quickly as they are received, Ruman said.
State Rep. Babette Josephs (D., Phila.), ranking Democrat on the House State Government Committee, is sponsoring a bill that would set dollar limits on campaign contributions and require the electronic filing of finance reports.
Josephs agreed on the advantages of electronic filing and said any candidates whose campaigns can reach the roughly 61,000 people in a typical state House district "certainly have the sophistication to file electronically."
So why do so many politicians insist on paper?