Legislative History Detective: Senate Electronic Filing


We’ve expended enormous energy and blog space to advocate for the Senate to file their campaign finance reports electronically, something that probably shouldn’t take that much effort, but it does. If you need a primer on the issue you can watch this video we made. One thing of note in this whole saga is that Congress, in 1999, mandated electronic filing for all campaign committees, but somehow the Senate doesn’t have to comply. Why is this?

In December of 1995, Congress passed a bill to amend the Federal Election Campaign Act to allow the FEC to accept electronic filing, a legislative recommendation previously made by the FEC to give them a statutory requirement and funding to create an e-filing system. The bill, which became Public Law 104-79, also changed the filing location for members of the House from the Clerk of the House to the FEC. This seems innocuous, but it is important.

In 1999, the FY2000 appropriations bill for the Treasury Department, the Executive Office of the President, and other agencies included campaign financing amendments, the 1999 FECA amendments. The 1999 FECA amendments mandated electronic filing of campaign finance reports for all campaign committees who raise a certain amount of money to be determined by the FEC. How did the Senate avoid e-filing? With this sneaky exemption provision defining the meaning of the word "report":

"(D) As used in this paragraph, the ‘term’ report means, with respect to the Commission, a report, designation, or statement required by this Act to be filed with the Commission."

The key words here are "to be filed with the Commission". Due to the 1995 bill (Public Law 104-79) the House was required to file with the Commission. The Senate, however, still files with the Secretary of the Senate who then proceeds to file them on behalf of Senators with the Commission. Thus, according to the statutory basis for e-filing, Senators do not file "reports" because they do not file with the Commission. Hopefully, they decide to change this silliness.