Sen. Ensign Still Opposes Transparency


Sen. John Ensign continues to block the campaign finance electronic filing bill that Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Russ Feingold have been attempting to pass all year. The bill, which the Sunlight Foundation has fought hard to get passed, has 41 cosponsors including 16 Republicans (including Sens. Bob Bennett, Lamar Alexander, and John Cornyn among others). Despite this not being a partisan issue, Ensign insists on blocking consideration of the bill by offering an irrelevant and controversial amendment, which initially came from the offices of Sen. Mitch McConnell, to require outisde groups filing ethics complaints to disclose their funding sources. This has been noted as unconstitutional law and is an absurd requirement to demand.

Is the Senate Ethics Committee truly overburdened with cases? Sen. Ensign says that complaints in the Senate can be written "on a beverage napkin or written in crayon." I’m not sure what number of ethics complaints are submitted by drunks and children (or some combination of the two) but it can’t be that high. In fact, the only known ongoing Senate Ethics Committee investigation was started by the Senate Republicans when they filed a complaint against Sen. Larry Craig for pleading guilty to possibly, maybe, perhaps being gay. Ellen just linked to a list of potential ethical issues facing a number of Republican Senators that could be investigated. If outside groups can file these complaints so easily – in crayon and on a beverage napkin – why isn’t the Ethics Committee investigating anything?

Sen. Ensign’s implacable resolve to deny easy public access to campaign finance information appears to be working to keep the public in the dark about the money he and other Senators, like Sen. Mitch McConnell, will be raising this election season. Thanks to Sen. Ensign the public will have less access to vital information about who is funding Senate campaigns. I’m sure those contributors will raise a toast at the next fundraiser Ensign hosts.

If only submitting earmarks were as easy as Ensign claims it is to submit an ethics complaint. I’d get my set of Crayolas and sit down with a bar napkin to set aside some funds to study gas capture technology in the U.S. Senate. They do it for cows.