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Senate e-filing club grows by one

But vast majority of senators still submit campaign finance disclosures on paper

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 Updated:

The ranks of the U.S. senators who voluntarily file their campaign finance reports online increased this past quarter — by one.

With the addition of Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., 16 senators chose to submit their second-quarter campaign finance reports electronically, up from 15 in the first quarter of the year, a Center for Public Integrity review of Federal Election Commission records found.

Reed, a 16-year veteran of the Senate who is up for re-election in 2014, had previously never e-filed any of his campaign finance reports.

But on Saturday he submitted online his documents covering the beginning of April through the end of June. A Reed spokesman could not immediately be reached to explain why.

(Update, 5:37 p.m.: Reed spokesman Chip Unruh explained that the senator e-filed because he "is a champion of campaign finance reform and transparency.")

The latest list of senators who filed campaign finance reports online last quarter, instead of on paper alone, includes members of both parties and two independents:

  • Max Baucus, D-Mont.
  • Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
  • Thad Cochran, R-Miss.
  • John Cornyn, R-Texas
  • Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.
  • Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
  • Al Franken, D-Minn.
  • Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
  • Angus King, I-Maine
  • Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
  • Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
  • Jack Reed, D-R.I.
  • Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
  • Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
  • Jon Tester, D-Mont.
  • Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

Members of the Senate are currently not required to file their campaign finance reports to the Federal Election Commission online. Rather, they are allowed to submit their reports on paper to the Secretary of the Senate, meaning it can potentially take weeks or even months for the public to find out who is funding their senators’ campaigns.

Unlike Senate hopefuls, presidential and House candidates, as well as political action committees and super PACs, must file their campaign finance reports online.

The FEC currently pays a separate firm to manually convert the information contained in the senators’ campaign finance reports into electronic form before uploading data in the filings to the agency’s searchable public online database. 

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., introduced a bill in February — it has yet to gain significant legislative traction — that would require senators to file their campaign finance reports online. He also proposed similar legislation in 2011. And in March, he unsuccessfully attempted to add the measure as an amendment to the federal budget.

Tester’s spokesman says he believes the bill’s prospects are improving because it is receiving greater attention from those outside the Senate chambers.

In general, people are growing more concerned over undisclosed political money, Tester’s press secretary Dan Malessa said, such as contributions used by some politically active nonprofit groups.       

“I think the bill will pick up more momentum this year compared to years past because of the influence of secret money,” Malessa said.

Malessa added that Tester hopes to include the legislation, which has 34 co-sponsors — including Reed — in the 2014 financial services appropriations bill. Some of the e-filing co-sponsors still continue filing their quarterly disclosures only on paper.

Transparency advocates have been lobbying for the bill’s passage for years. The Sunlight Foundation last week repeated its call for senators to e-file their campaign finance disclosures in an open letter to members of the U.S. Senate.

Lisa Rosenberg, a government affairs consultant for the Sunlight Foundation, said she remains “cautiously optimistic” about the measure’s chances in Congress, but added “this bill has been around for ten years now so I don’t get too hopeful.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other Republicans have stymied previous efforts to advance legislation requiring senators to e-file their campaign finance reports, often by attaching unrelated amendments.

McConnell’s office did not respond to requests for comment. 

Proponents of the legislation estimate Tester’s proposal could save the federal government upward of $500,000 annually.