David Waldman (aka Kagro X) posted a very good piece on Congress Matters regarding congressional transparency and the bureaucratic arguments by institutionalists that often prevent positive action. Waldman's piece focuses on the priority of technology-enabled transparency in voting records and how the members of Congress may simply say, "Gather the info and do it yourself. We don't want to spend the money to do it." He also touches on one area that we focus on a lot here, the lack of electronic filing for Senate campaign finance forms. Waldman draws an analogy between the institutional arguments for not releasing voting records with Senate obstinacy on electronic filing of campaign forms:
A similar issue arises, it turns out, with the drive to get the Senate to file its campaign finance forms electronically, too. I haven't had any particular need to comb through that information (though it wouldn't be hard to imagine needing it), but in my discussions with people in the transparency biz, that's clearly been a big sticking point. Again, though, I could see the institutionalists saying, "You want campaign finance forms? Go ask the [FEC]. We're the Senate. We're what happens after all that stuff." That's a gross oversimplification, of course, since everyone knows that the general public at least considers it important to know where incumbent Senators have raised and are raising their money from.
If the Senate wants to make an institutional argument about whether it is on them to properly file their campaign finance forms or whether this is an FEC issue, that is perfectly fine. That's because the problem lies solely with the institution of the Senate and cannot be deferred as an issue with the FEC.
You see, senators do not file with the FEC directly. Instead, they file, on paper, with the Secretary of the Senate's office, which then passes the documents onto the FEC (where they are copied and housed in a series of file cabinets). Thus, the Senate insists on making its bureaucratic inefficiency a problem for both the information provider and the information seeker. They can't possibly say, "You want campaign finance forms? Go ask the [FEC]. We're the Senate. We're what happens after all that stuff," because they have made themselves file with the Senate, not the FEC.
When Congress mandated electronic filing of campaign finance forms in 1999, the Senate exempted themselves by carving out a loophole that requires only those filing directly with the FEC to file electronically. Since senators file with the Secretary of the Senate, they became exempt, thus they can't push this issue off to the FEC or any other information providing body.
If you think this is absurd and want transparency from the Senate, you can help us pass S. 482, a bill that would require senators to file directly with the FEC, thus ending the Senate exemption. Go to the Pass 482 site and tell your senator(s) to cosponsor the bill.