In Upside-Down World of Campaign Financing, Senators are Required to Turn in Paper Copies Which are then Converted to Digital Versions

Friday, April 25, 2014

In an era when electronic filing is available for a host of public services, the U.S. Senate still requires members and candidates to disclose their campaign contributions on paper that inevitably get turned into a digital format. The reporting system is so out of date, and critics contend out of whack, that if senators or candidates e-file their campaign finance reports, they get into trouble.

 

In fact, 21 of them got reprimanded by the government’s election watchdog for doing just that.

 

When the latest reports were due with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), its staffers claimed that 21 senators, including both Democrats and Republicans, had failed to make the deadline. The FEC issued letters (pdf) to the offices of the 21 senators and challengers warning they were in violation of reporting rules.

 

But many of those receiving the letters said they had prepared and submitted their reports.

 

The problem, according to the Center for Public Integrity, resided in the Senate’s “byzantine” filing requirements.

 

Senators and candidates must make paper copies of their reports, which are sent to the Office of the Secretary of the Senate for processing. The Senate secretary then transfers the paper copies over to the FEC, which gives them to a government contractor responsible for digitizing the reports. The data is subsequently posted to the FEC’s website, which occurs days or even weeks past the filing deadline. (This exercise costs taxpayers around $500,000 per year.)

 

If a senator tries to skip this time-consuming process and submits an electronic copy of his or her report, the system can’t handle it, resulting in a failed-to-report warning.

 

“If the Senate would enter the 21st century and file their campaign contribution reports electronically like House and presidential candidates do, we wouldn’t have this problem,” Lisa Rosenberg, a lobbyist for the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for greater government transparency, told the Center for Public Integrity.

 

That change may be on the way.

 

The Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act, introduced with 40 cosigners, would require e-filing for campaign finance reports.

 

Even the FEC, whose Democratic and Republican commissioners rarely agree together on anything, voted unanimously in support of a recommendation to Congress for Senate candidates to file their disclosures digitally.

-Noel Brinkerhoff

 

To Learn More:

FEC Sends Senators Erroneous Warnings (by Dave Levinthal, Center for Public Integrity)

Incoming FEC Bosses Pledge to Work Together Following Blistering Center Report (by Dave Levinthal, Center for Public Integrity)

Karl Rove’s Crossroads Non-Profit at the Heart of IRS Targeting and Election Commission Clashes (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Federal Election Commission Lawyers Call for Investigation of Illegal Activity by Karl Rove Super PAC…No Action Expected (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

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