She is asking the Citizens Clean Elections Commission to kick in $200,000 for the project.

Secretary of State Michele Reagan is restarting a stalled project to streamline how campaign-finance reports are displayed, but only after scrapping a $500,000 contract.

It was a key talking point of her 2014 campaign for secretary of state: Michele Reagan would build a website to allow the public to track the money spent in political campaigns, from the Governor’s Office down to the smallest town-council race.

But the much-touted See the Money website has yet to materialize, despite a nearly $500,000 investment, a now-completed contract with an outside firm and a string of promised due dates.

Reagan said she’s moving the project in-house and is determined to have it online by January.

“Regardless, this will go out into the market,” Reagan said at a meeting of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission last week. “My first month in office, we decided we would do this. And if this doesn’t happen, I don’t want to be secretary of state. That’s how important it is.”

At the meeting, Reagan requested a $200,000 contribution from the commission to help pay the total project cost that her office estimates will grow threefold to $1.5 million. She also extended an olive branch, trying to mend relations with the independent panel that she has fought with frequently in her first two years in office.

Delays drag down project

The five-member commission, which oversees the state’s public campaign-finance system and provides voter education, didn’t commit to a dollar amount. But it did vote unanimously to work out an agreement for the project, including Reagan’s request for an extra $50,000 annual maintenance fee, and then determine its contribution.

Commissioner Mark Kimble wondered why the project has been delayed: The commission, he said, was first told of the project two years ago, soon after Reagan took office. She wasn’t asking for money then, but was touting the project’s benefits and her plans to launch it in time for the 2016 elections.

That didn’t happen, despite a contract with an outside firm to build the See the Money project. The Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting last week reported Reagan’s office spent $494,000 on a contract with MindNest, a Scottsdale technology-incubator firm, to build the new system.

In mid-2016, Reagan said she decided to halt the project and bring it in-house.

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Reagan attributed the delays in the project’s debut to the demands of the 2016 election cycle, with its four statewide elections. There were numerous problems that diverted staff time, from long lines at the presidential-preference election to her office’s failure to mail the publicity pamphlet for the May election on school funding and public pensions to more than 200,000 households.

“I took seriously when people, including (The Arizona Republic) Editorial Board, said, ‘Focus on the elections and stop doing all this other stuff,’ ” she told The Republic. “Let’s do this in a non-election year.”

Although the project was handed to an outside contractor, her office still needed to provide oversight, she said.

$500,000 down the drain?

Reagan said the nearly $500,000 contract wasn’t wasted money because it provided the design for the eventual system. But it will take up to another $1 million to finish it, Reagan said.

Three months after she took office, Reagan wrote in her official blog that she would unveil the system — then called Follow the Money — in summer 2015. The date kept moving back, with her staff saying it would debut last spring. But with 2016 come and gone, the project had not yet surfaced.

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That’s because Reagan said she added a number of changes to the project to reflect new legislation, including changes required by a rewrite of the state’s election-law statutes that she spearheaded.

Having Reagan’s staff take over the project, rather than extend the contract with MindNest, makes sense because they are familiar with the needs of users — such as candidates, donors and the public, said Matt Roberts, a spokesman for the secretary of state.

“We felt we had a wealth of talent and institutional memory,”  he said.

Although Reagan insisted the contract wasn’t a waste of money, when asked by The Republic if the $494,000 was money well spent, she responded: “That remains to be seen.”

The contract created the first stage of the site’s development, she said, and the platform it built should show its benefits as the in-house project moves along.

MindNest Managing Director W.M. Daniel Kennedy said the product his firm delivered was fully integrated with the secretary of state’s servers and should have enough flexibility to accommodate any additions made to it later.

MindNest, he said, was one part of the building blocks for the See the Money project. “Our part, what we agreed to do, I think we did an exemplary job,” he said.

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Smoothing relations

As she completed her financial pitch to the commission, Reagan acknowledged the “friction” between her office and the independent panel. But, she said, she is trying to mend relations. The two offices have sparred for two years about who has authority over various election issues.

“We have not been down at the Legislature advocating for your demise, which is a bit of a turnabout from the last few years,” Reagan told commissioners.

Kimble grimaced.

“I would hope we can have a higher bar than, ‘We are not advocating for your demise,’ ” he said.

Commissioner Damien Meyer said he was heartened by Reagan’s comments, and said the commission should move on to a new chapter of improved relations.

Breach of contract

As a conciliatory move, the commission voted to not press for reimbursement for what it determined was the secretary of state’s breach of an unrelated contract.

That contract, initially entered into in 2013, was intended to improve the office’s campaign-finance website by adding a section where independent-expenditure committees would file their reports. State Elections Director Eric Spencer took down that part of the website last year, as tensions between the two offices escalated.

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Rather than pursue full reimbursement of the contract, the commission’s executive director, Tom Collins, recommended the panel accept the $87,500 refund Reagan offered the commission. Collins said it would not be worth the time and trouble to chase after the remaining $175,000.

It’s not clear whether that portion of the website will return.

Reach the reporter at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @maryjpitzl.


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