Senator John Tester announced on Facebook and Twitter that he has joined a very small handful of Senators who electronically file their campaign finance disclosure reports online with the FEC. (Update: Other sitting senators who file electronically include: Boxer, Cochran, Cornyn, Leahy, Lugar, Feinstein and Sanders.) By doing so, Tester sends an important message to all of his Senate colleagues. Even though they are not legally required to, Senators and Senate candidates can and should file their reports of campaign contributions and expenditures electronically.
Disclosure of important information about who supports which Senate candidates is delayed because the Senate decided years ago that it should not have to abide by mandatory electronic filing requirements all other political committees follow. Recognizing the absurdity of this antiquated system, in January Senator Tester introduced S. 219, the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act. Sunlight has long supported previous incarnations of this legislation, first introduced in 2003 (!) and we will continue to advocate its passage. Unfortunately, Senator Mitch McConnell is likely to put up the same obstacles blocking this simple bill that he has used in the past. That’s why voluntary electronic filing is important. It is the only way the public can have real time access to Senate campaign finance information. Voluntary filing will never obviate the need for a change in the law because there will always be outliers who think they can game the system by delaying disclosure. But it is an easy way for Senators to demonstrate their support for transparency. We hope more Senators will Tester’s lead.