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June 26, 2014

Senate Moves Closer to Electronic Filing of Candidate Campaign Reports

By Azhar Unwala and Daniel Schuman

U.S. SenateIn a welcome development, the Senate finally is close to eliminating paper filing of Senate campaign reports, which cost the government $500,000 annually and delay public access to crucial election-related information. The Legislative Branch Appropriations bill for FY 2015 favorably reported by the Appropriations Committee on Thursday, includes a provision requiring Senate candidates to submit campaign filings directly to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in electronic format.

Currently most federal candidates, party committees, and federal PACs are required to file their disclosures electronically. However, the Senate permits candidates to submit campaign filings in paper to the Secretary of the Senate, which the FEC must print out and re-key. While candidates can choose to e-file, many decline so as to keep opponents and journalists from knowing what they are doing. 

In the past, legislation requiring Senate candidates conform to electronic filing requirements was thwarted through filibuster threats, “poison pill” amendments, and other obstructionist tactics. The most recent legislative effort, led by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) in the form of the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act, garnered bipartisan support in the Senate Rules Committee, where it was favorably reported, only run into opposition from Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who thwarted efforts to allow it to proceed to the Senate floor via unanimous consent.

CREW has urged the Senate to support legislation obligating candidates to disclose campaign finance reports electronically, and we welcome this development. In a world where campaign financing often determines election outcomes, timely access to Senate candidates’ campaign reports is crucial to a well-functioning democracy. The Senate should ensure this provision is included when it considers the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill on the floor.

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