As of midnight last night, candidates for federal office were to have filed their campaign finance disclosure reports with the Federal Election Commission. These reports contain crucial information that lets voters know which special interests, big-money lobbyists or out-of-state donors may be funding a candidate’s campaign. The reports are supposed to be public, but if you try to find Senate candidates’ reports today, you will be out of luck. Why? Because the Senate has exempted itself from filing directly with the FEC, instead using the Secretary of the Senate as an intermediary. And instead of filing their reports electronically, like House candidates and presidential candidates have been doing for years, Senators and Senate candidates mail or hand-deliver paper printouts of their electronically generated reports.
After receiving the reports, the Secretary of the Senate must scan, page by painstaking page, thousands of pages of campaign finance reports before transmitting them to the FEC. It may be days or weeks before the FEC receives the reports—longer for the ones that are mailed rather than hand delivered, as the mailed reports don’t even arrive at the Secretary of the Senate’s office until they have been processed off site.
But wait, there’s more. After it receives the scanned documents, the FEC must then spend about $450,000 in taxpayer dollars and untold hours having the records typed in, line-by-line, to the FEC’s databases. It will take at least three weeks before the information is publicly available—longer in the middle of a busy election season. The process isn’t just inefficient. It denies citizens timely access to information that can help shape and inform their opinions about their candidates and elected officials.
Senator Tester and Cochran have repeatedly introduced legislation to streamline the process and make electronic filing mandatory. This Congress, a bipartisan group of 30 senators have cosponsored S. 375, the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act, with many others voicing support for the measure.
Despite its overwhelming support, the bill has not become law because some in the Senate have chosen to make it a political pawn. That is why we urge every Senator who supports transparency and government efficiency, as well as every one who opposes government waste, to cosponsor the bill. Overwhelming, demonstrated support may be the best chance this common sense piece of legislation to pass.