The battle over disclosing Senate campaign finance records

By

 Updated:

In recent months, Obama’s team has worked strenuously to beam the White House into the 21st century technologically — setting up its own blog, and featuring a YouTube channel and Twitter feed during the election. Yet when it comes to quicker and more accessible campaign finance disclosure, the Senate — his old stomping ground — has stayed mired in the past. Before Sunshine Week wraps up, it’s worth noting why.

Though House and presidential candidates are all required to file their campaign finance disclosures electronically — enabling anyone to readily search them online through databases like Opensecrets.org within 24 hours — the Senate continues to file in paper form.

The system works like this: Senate candidates 1) print out their reports and turn them over to the Senate disclosure office, which 2) re-scans the pages before delivering the computer files to the FEC, which in turn 3) pays a company to retype the forms before putting them online for 4) the public to search.

The process can take up to three months — by which time the election might already be over (and in the meantime, the government’s shelled out $250,000 to a private contractor in Fredericksburg, Virginia, for the service).

That’s not to say it isn’t possible to view Senate disclosures before then. It just means hopping a flight to D.C. to leaf by hand through a candidate’s paper report — some of which can run up to 3,400 pages.

Since November 2003, Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin has repeatedly introduced a bill to modernize the system and require electronic filing. Nevertheless, a series of Republican holds have killed the act in recent sessions. This week it surfaced that Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas has reportedly been holding up the measure by attempting to attach a controversial measure requiring groups filing ethics complaints against Congress to identify their donors.

In response, the Sunlight Foundation has set up a site, Pass S.482, to encourage constituents to contact their senators to vote for Feingold’s bill.

Care about freedom of the press? Support independent investigative journalism.

Donate now
Donate now