Raleigh, N.C. — A new website launched quietly last month by the State Ethics Commission allows users to look up state officials' potential conflicts of interest.
Statements of economic interest, which elected and appointed policymakers alike are required to file with the state, have long been available to the public upon request. But the new Web portal, brought online for early testing on July 1, now allows access to several years of forms, all searchable by name or agency.
The State Ethics Act, passed in 2006 to combat corruption following the conviction of former Democratic state House Speaker Jim Black, requires high-ranking public servants to note potential economic conflicts such as investments, debt and other financial interests.
Although Ethics Commission Executive Director Perry Newson said his agency has had a good track record of responding to requests for the SEI forms, he said the new site is an added convenience for the public.
"It's not subject to our business hours or having someone here to help with that request," Newson said.
The forms can be viewed at the website via PDF, which means users can't search for the information locked inside – specific companies a lawmaker might invest in, for example.
Newson said expanded searches for conflict of interest data has been part of the discussion for the project.
"It's just going to be a question of time and funding," he said.
The website is the second component of a push to modernize the way SEI records are filed and maintained that began in 2010. In 2012, Newson said, the commission launched a system to allow public servants to file conflict of interest forms electronically.
But it's not yet required by law, and many public officials still submit hard copies with handwritten responses, making the data harder to compile and review.
"Eventually, I think the online filing will be mandatory," Newson said, "but that's still a battle that has to be fought."
Although the ethics commission went live with the site July 1, Newson said they've kept it low-profile while they monitor for glitches. He encourages the public to report bugs to the commission by email at email@example.com.
"If we don't know, then we can't fix it," he said. "We want to make sure it's working the way it's supposed to."