Senators Take a Pass on Electronic Filing. Again.

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By an overwhelming majority, Senators passed the STOCK Act, a bill Majority Leader Reid described as, “a critical step toward restoring Americans’ faith in Congress” but failed—in fact actively prevented—to allow a vote on an amendment that would have required Senators and Senate candidates to electronically file their campaign finance reports.

Sunlight wrote a letter to Senate Leaders as well as the managers of the STOCK Act (Senators Lieberman and Collins) asking how they could have allowed at least 18 amendments to be voted on or agreed to, but somehow fail to include an amendment offered by Senators Tester and Cochran that would have ensured that Senators and Senate candidates file their campaign finance disclosure reports in the same manner that House and Presidential candidates do—electronically with the FEC. We hope one of them provides us with an answer that passes the smell test.

The answer can’t be that the electronic filing amendment fell outside the jurisdiction of the bill—the goal of which was to improve the actual and perceived ethical behavior of members of Congress. Electronic filing will speed public access to information about who is funding candidates’ campaigns. Delaying disclosure of that information makes it look like Senate candidates have something to hide. Moreover, plenty of amendments were voted on that fell outside the strict scope of the bill. Votes were allowed to prohibit bonuses to executives at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to prevent the creation of overlapping Federal programs, and to extend the bill’s requirements to executive branch agencies. So why not an amendment that will shine a bright and immediate light on campaign contributions to Senate candidates?

Likewise the answer can’t be that the amendment would have taken up too much floor time. No Senator has ever publicly opposed the measure, therefore no extended debate would likely have been necessary. A simple up or down vote on a three line amendment would have taken minimal time and allowed for all of the other votes to the STOCK Act to continue as scheduled.

We are left assuming the answer is the same as it always is–Senator Mitch McConnell. For reasons beyond our comprehension, the Republican leader has blocked electronic filing again and again and again and again and again.

We can only guess that he insisted the amendment be pulled, and, using whatever threats or powers of persuasion he could muster, convinced Leader Reid as well as Senators Lieberman and Collins that the STOCK Act would be doomed or delayed if the e-filing amendment were included. The others, not caring enough about this transparency measure to fight for it, simply acquiesced.

If we are right, it’s particularly ironic given what Senator McConnell said in a press release about requiring the same provisions in the STOCK Act to apply to the executive branch. “I think it’s pretty clear at this point that there’s broad bipartisan support for legislation that provides greater transparency in the Congress. The more important question at this point is whether the Executive Branch is willing to play by the same rules.”

We think the “more important question at this point” is whether Senator McConnell supports greater transparency for Congress and whether the Senate is willing to play by the same rules that provide greater transparency in the House and White House.

We hope any one of the Senate leaders who managed successful passage of the STOCK Act is willing to stand up and provide an answer to that question. And we hope each commits to bringing the Senate electronic filing measure to the floor for a straight up or down vote, where we are certain it would pass overwhelmingly, finally bringing Senate campaign finance reporting in the Senate into the 21st Century.

Letter to Leaders and Managers on Efiling Amendment

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