Voters are Left in the Dark about Who Funds Senators’ Campaigns

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Today, most citizens will be frantically filing their taxes with the IRS, or patting themselves on the back for getting their filing done ahead of time. But for House and Senate candidates, today is also the deadline to file their campaign finance reports with the FEC. These reports contain crucial information that lets us know what special interest, big-money lobbyist or out-of-state donor may be funding the candidate’s campaign.

Candidates for the House of Representatives and the Presidency electronically file lists of their donors and expenses. Not so U.S. senators, who have long exempted themselves from mandatory electronic filing of campaign reports, holding fast to an archaic system of filing their reports with the Secretary of the Senate.

This cumbersome and expensive process requires the Senate to print out these reports and deliver them to the FEC, which must then spend about $250,000 and untold hours having the records typed in, line by line, to the FEC’s databases. This isn’t just inefficient spending of our tax dollars, it’s a waste of time that denies us timely access to information that can help shape and inform voters’ knowledge and opinions about the people they will be voting for in November.

Efforts to mandate electronic filing by Senate candidates have been stymied for years. The good news, however, is that a legal mandate is actually not necessary for senators and Senate candidates to file their campaign finance information in electronic form with the FEC. Just as taxpayers may choose to file their 1090s electronically, candidates for Senate can voluntarily file their campaign finance reports electronically, assuring that their campaign finance information is online, in real time, while decreasing the chances that errors will occur when the date is re-entered.

Unfortunately, of sitting senators, only a handful, including Senators Feingold, Feinstein and Wicker have consistently taken this simple step to make their campaign finance reports available to the public as soon as they are filed.

Candidates’ campaigns already have this information in electronic form, and the FEC makes it easy to file electronically by simply downloading its free filing software, and contacting the agency for an ID and password. So the question is: Why aren’t more incumbent and future senators demonstrating leadership and a commitment to transparency and openness by taking the simple step of voluntarily filing their campaign finance reports electronically? There simply is no good reason not to. Every campaign that filed a paper report today should commit to filing their next required reports electronically.

Legislation requiring mandatory electronic filing by senate candidates should still be passed, to ensure that there are no outliers delaying public access to campaign finance information. But, until that happens, every candidate running for Senate in 2010 should pledge that, going forward, he or she will make his or her campaign finance reports transparent and timely by taking advantage of the option to file electronically.

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