We need your help today to bolster Senate e-filing

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., talks about how he has advocated for transparency while in Congress during "The Price We Pay for Money's Influence on Politics."
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., one of the biggest proponents of Senate e-filing. (Photo credit: Sunlight Foundation)

Today, the U.S. Senate can take a step towards changing a costly and opaque practice while joining their colleagues in the House and the White House in the 21st Century.

Regular readers of our blog are probably familiar with the sad state of Senate campaign finance disclosures. For those that might be new, here’s a tweet-length primer:

Senate candidates don’t have to file campaign finance docs electronically, delaying disclosure of their donors and costing taxpayers close to $500,000 a year to have their paper filings digitized.

Some senators choose to embrace 21st Century transparency, saving taxpayer money and government time by filing electronically. Even more have recognized that this is a common sense and necessary reform by cosponsoring S.366 a bill introduced by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., that would require Senate candidates to join their compatriots running for the House and the White House — who have been filing electronically for years.

By all accounts it should be law, but it needs your help.

The Senate is in the middle of its annual budget “vote-a-rama,” and Tester has submitted an amendment (S.Amdt.570, if you’re following along at home) that would ease the way for future passage of S. 366 and finally give senators a chance to express their support of e-filing.

Call or tweet at your senators and urge them to vote in favor of S.Amdt.570 when it comes before them later today — while you’re at it, urge them to co-sponsor S.366 (find your member here). The vote could come as late as 4:00 am ET and it’s never too late to reach out.

The bill won’t force senators to start e-filing, but it will give them a rare opportunity to voice their support for the practice.

Currently, senators file reports with the Secretary of the Senate, who delivers paper copies to the FEC. That agency must then manually input the data from thousands of pages of paper into databases before the information can be made public in a searchable, usable manner. It’s a costly, archaic system that should have been phased out years ago.

Unfortunately, despite growing support and no good arguments against it, reform has been slow to come to the Senate thanks to some powerful opponents.

Today’s action is the rare amendment that could have a profound effect on how the business of running for Senate is done. It won’t change the rules immediately, but if passed it will show e-filing’s opponents that the time has come for them to stop wasting money and keeping the public in the dark.