Death Knell for Secret Holds


Sen. Claire McCaskill spent the past few months moving from Senate office to Senate office seeking supporters of her provision to end secret holds in the Senate for good. It seems that all that work has paid off and she now has the requisite 67 votes to change Senate rules.

The Kansas City Star reports that Sens. Kit Bond and Sam Brownback have signed on as the 66th and 67th cosponsors of McCaskill’s bill. The bill is supported now by 58 Democrats and 9 Republicans.

This is an excellent development for transparency in the Senate as numerous bills and appointments have been secretly held up for no explainable reason. The Sunlight Foundation has a long history of dealing with secret holds as some of our priority bills enhancing transparency in our government were held up by secret holds.

Back in 2006, the year of Sunlight’s birth, we joined a coalition of blogs and anti-government waste groups like Porkbusters to uncover the secret hold on the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA) that went on to create FFATA was sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn and then-Sen. Barack Obama. It was, perhaps, the President’s chief accomplishment as a senator.

Over 2007 and 2008, there were a series of secret holds placed on a bill to require senators to file their campaign finance reports electronically. Yet again, we waged an outing campaign against the secret holder. This one was less successful than the FFATA secret hold outing as everyone denied having the secret hold.

Senators are not simply objecting to presidential nominees or other bills on meritorious grounds. These two instances have shown senators secretly blocking bills that would create more transparency in government. That is an outrage and so are secret holds.

It seems that the most senators who have joined the Senate since the secret hold practice was revealed as an odious relic of a bygone era understand that practices in the Senate need to change. Eighteen of the twenty-one senators elected in 2006 and 2008 have cosponsored McCaskill’s bill.

The only Democrat to not co-sponsor the bill is the longest serving senator ever, Sen. Robert Byrd. Byrd, coincidentally, was also one of two senators to have placed a secret hold on the federal funding transparency bill that created