Baptist Health called the other morning to cancel an appointment. My doctor was out sick. Would I be interested in a telehealth appointment instead?
An hour later I signed in online, only to realize that now that my appointment had been converted to telehealth, their system saw it as “new” and required that I fill out the pre-appointment paperwork again. I rushed to get this done. But when I got to the last page, the system would not let me hit the finish button. It was convinced I already had an appointment and was trying to double book. In the end, we just had to reschedule.
Was this frustrating, complex, irritating? Yes. But it was also normal. These are the travails of our normal, everyday, online lives.
A year ago, in January 2022, I filed to run for Anderson County magistrate on the last day candidates could file. I was a first-time candidate, so the paperwork was unfamiliar (and therefore, complicated) and I did not yet have an online account with Kentucky Registration for Election Finance (KREF).
To top it off, I had to do all of this fast — by the next day — and through the fog of jet-lag. We had been in Hawaii celebrating a big anniversary and had just arrived back in Kentucky on a redeye flight. As I remember it, I arrived home from the airport the day before the deadline, dropped my bags on my bedroom floor and drove around Lawrenceburg all afternoon, scrambling to complete my paperwork. And I will never forget sitting at my kitchen table that night, heart pounding, setting up my KREF account and finding my way around their unfamiliar system, hoping I didn’t mess anything up.
I tell you this story because State Sen. John Schickel has filed Senate Bill 18 which aims to eliminate the online KREF system and return to paper filings.
KREF’s executive director, John Steffen, calls the bill “the end of campaign finance disclosure in Kentucky,” as his agency lacks the staff to manually enter the information for all candidates in election years. The system is searchable by candidate, committee, contributor and expenditure, once filed.
“Nothing would show online” if the system is scrapped, Steffen said. “Since we no longer have the ability to do that, reports filed on paper would literally just have to be stacked in a pile.”
And therein lies the old familiar rub: Senate Bill 18 is not about KREF being any more difficult to navigate than other websites that we all deal with daily, much like my recent kerfuffle with Baptist Health. This is about lawmakers finding a way to be less transparent about where their money comes from and how that money is spent.
Government transparency in Kentucky is not only an issue at the state level. I lost my primary back in May, but I maintained my interest in the business of the Anderson County Fiscal Court and have been working to encourage the Court to be more transparent.
For example, on Sep. 6th I formally requested that the Court consider live-streaming their bimonthly meetings. This seemed easy, a no-brainer. Everything is online these days. But their vote ended in a tie, with the nay votes saying they needed more information and that they had not heard from citizens wanting live-streamed meetings.
Over the next few weeks, I gave them exactly what they’d requested. I provided information on costs, submitted a petition with the names of 133 citizens requesting live-streaming, informed the Court of the many other counties who livestream these meetings, and wrote a formal, respectful request to the Court asking that live-streaming be listed officially on the agenda, that they simply take a public vote.
It has now been five months of silence from the Anderson County Fiscal Court. Why? Because Kentucky law does not require them to provide this basic, 21st-century-level of transparency, even if their citizens want it, even if the cost to do so is minimal, even if setting up a couple of cameras would be about as easy as installing a baby monitor.
Senate Bill 18, with its goal to eliminate the online KREF system and return to paper filings, has the same goal: Our elected officials do not want the public to see what they are doing.
Ask yourself why.
Sen. Schickel has said, “I have a professional treasurer that’s really good with computers, but there are some people, especially old people, that find the electronic process kind of intimidating,” Schickel said. “And I think it makes it harder for a candidate who is new to the process. It’s just one more hoop that they have to jump through.”
Oh, nonsense. Last year, I was a 56 year-old grandmother, a first-time candidate, and I am not remotely computer savvy, to the point that I once set up TikTok and Instagram accounts only to never use them because I could not figure out how to navigate them.
Would I call setting up my KREF account and using their online system for a year, simple? No.
But is the KREF system any more difficult to use than any of the other systems we are all now required to use in our everyday lives? No. And our lawmakers know it. Senate Bill 18 is just their latest grasp at trying to keep you, the public, in the dark.