Senators resist the Internet, leave voters in the dark

But candidates in Wisconsin, California among those bucking paper filings

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 Updated:

Democrats Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Kamala Harris of California did something last week that no other non-incumbent U.S. Senate candidates did: They electronically filed copies of their campaign finance reports with the Federal Election Commission.

In a throwback to the age of typewriters and snail mail, Senate candidate must still, by law, submit their official campaign finance reports on paper.

A bipartisan bill — known as the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act — would force Senate candidates to file digitally, just as presidential candidates, U.S. House candidates and political action committees have done for nearly a generation.

Paper campaign finance records are more difficult to analyze and aren’t readily available to the public for days after being filed. Digital records are publicly accessible and easily searchable from the moment they’re submitted to FEC officials.

But until the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act bill (or one like) is adopted, Senate candidates who opt to e-file remain a rarity — even as campaigns have made digital tools, from social media such as Facebook and Snapchat to complex analytics software, cornerstones of their political efforts.

“For the most part, people aren’t going to go above and beyond what they have to do by law,” said Adam Smith, the communications director of the advocacy group Every Voice, which supports e-filing. “It makes absolutely no sense that the Senate doesn’t file electronically.”

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has, in the past, been blamed for blocking the e-filing legislation, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act has some degree of bipartisan support, and one-fifth of incumbent senators also voluntarily file copies of these reports electronically, according to a review of filings by the Center for Public Integrity.

As of today, 20 incumbent senators had joined Feingold and Harris in e-filing copies of their most recent campaign finance reports or said they were in the process of doing so. That number has increased in recent years, although it has barely budged since last year.

Documents covering the second quarter of 2015 were required to be submitted to government regulators last week — with a postmark deadline of Wednesday.

The e-filing senators were:

  • Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
  • Thad Cochran, R-Miss.
  • John Cornyn, R-Texas
  • Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.
  • Diane Feinstein, D-Calif.
  • Al Franken, D-Minn.
  • Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
  • Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.
  • Angus King, I-Maine
  • Pat Leahy, D-Vt.
  • Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
  • Gary Peters, D-Mich.
  • Jack Reed, D-R.I.
  • Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
  • Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
  • Jon Tester, D-Mont.
  • Mark Warner, D-Va.
  • Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
  • Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.
  • Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

For his part, Feingold — who championed campaign finance reform during his previous time in the Senate and co-sponsored the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. — told the Center for Public Integrity that electronic filing of campaign finance reports is “long overdue.”

“Electronic filing makes our electoral system more transparent, saves taxpayers $500,000 per year and just makes common sense,” Feingold said in an emailed statement. “Both the House and the President now file electronically, and it’s time the Senate joined them.”

That sentiment was echoed by Harris campaign spokesman Nathan Click.

“With so many Californians disillusioned by the state of political discourse and the presence of big money in our political system, it’s one small way to show voters what is fueling our campaign,” Click said.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., paper filings for only 59 of the current 100 senators had been processed and made available for public viewing as of this morning.

Paperwork for the rest is expected to be processed within about a week — although the data-entry work to fully process and make public all the transactions contained in the filings will take several additional weeks to complete.

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