Senate transparency push gets new GOP allies

Bipartisan group of lawmakers will soon unveil proposal for e-filing campaign finance reports

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers will soon float a bill requiring U.S. Senate candidates to electronically file campaign finance documents, the Center for Public Integrity has learned.

Known as the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act, the bill — which the Congressional Budget Office estimates could save taxpayers about $500,000 a year — aims to sync the Senate with what’s currently required for U.S. House candidates, presidential candidates and political action committees.

But like previous iterations of the bill, the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act is likely to die an unceremonious death, buried in the docket of a Senate subcommittee. That’s because Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has previously stymied the legislation, and now as Senate majority leader, his power to shape legislative priorities is stronger than ever.

Nevertheless, supporters of the bill hope to win over converts.

“For too long, senators have hidden behind an outdated filing system that wastes taxpayers’ money and isn’t transparent,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who will be the bill’s chief sponsor, said in a statement.

“Transparency in politics and saving taxpayers’ money is not a partisan issue,” Tester added. “This is a commonsense step that will improve our broken campaign finance system.”

Already, Tester has earned a few new allies.

At least three of the 12 newly elected Republican senators tell the Center for Public Integrity they’re sympathetic, as is Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., the sole new Democratic freshman senator.

“It’s time to bring Senate campaign reporting into the 21st century,” Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said in a statement.

Gardner added that it was “long past time for the Senate to be held to the same standard” as the U.S. House of Representatives, where Gardner previously served for four years and where candidates must, by law, e-file their campaign finance reports.

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., will also be supporting the new e-filing legislation.

“This bill is a commonsense measure to increase transparency and ensure that taxpayer dollars are used more effectively,” said Daines spokeswoman Alee Lockman.

Additionally, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., “would be supportive of e-filing requirements at the federal level if the implementation grants candidates and committees ample time to prepare for the new law,” said his spokesman Daniel Keylin. 

Officials with the other freshmen Republican senators either declined to comment or did not respond to requests.

A spokesman for McConnell also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Lisa Rosenberg, a lobbyist for the Sunlight Foundation, which supports e-filing, called the bill a “no-brainer” that should be “a non-issue.”

Last year, the legislation was supported by more than half of the Senate, though it never received a vote on the Senate floor. This year, however, Rosenberg says, it could be even more challenging to pass the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act.

“Considering we couldn’t get this bill passed when the Democrats had the majority, I’m not optimistic that we’ll get the bill passed now that Mitch McConnell is running the show,” she said.

While it is not required by law, some senators — mostly Democrats but also a few Republicans and the Senate’s two independents — choose to e-file copies of their campaign finance reports with the Federal Election Commission.

 

 

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