Disclosure Rules in Holding Pattern

Senators Split Over Mandatory Electronic Filing for Candidates

Posted March 15, 2004 at 6:25pm

Four months after campaign reform advocates introduced a bill requiring Senate candidates to electronically file their campaign reports, the legislation remains bottled up in the Rules and Administration Committee with its fate unknown.

Rules Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.) acknowledged that some of his colleagues oppose the measure, but he did not identify anyone by name.

While Lott said he believes this will eventually be a standard practice in the Senate, he noted that it’s unlikely to happen any time soon.

“I don’t think we can get a mandatory requirement,” Lott said. “I don’t think right now we can get voluntary. There is opposition to it and the opposition is from the far corners.”

But personally, the Mississippi Republican noted he supports the measure.

“I think it is a part of modern technology and it is going to happen,” Lott said. But the Mississippi Republican added, “it is not going to happen right away.”

The chairman explained that much of the discussion now focuses on the issue of mandatory versus voluntary electronic filing.

“We are looking at whether or not we should consider that or should move forward to make it at least voluntary,” Lott said. “Some Senators may not want to do it for a variety of reasons and some Senators may just want to do it, which is cheaper.”

Despite the January ricin scare that shut down Congressional mail operations just as the latest quarterly campaign filings were scheduled to be disclosed, just two Senators, John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), have officially endorsed the legislation.

But Lott and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) have expressed an interest in seeing the bill passed.

“I am supportive,” said Dodd, the ranking member on the Rules panel.

Yet the measure remains held up. McCain said he plans to ask Lott for an update on the matter, but he noted it is the Mississippi Republican who will ultimately determine whether the legislation is voted out of committee.

“I am going to have another discussion with Senator Lott about it,” McCain said. “I would like to see it, but unless Senator Lott agrees I doubt it would go someplace.”

McCain said he has “no clue why we wouldn’t embrace” the legislation, noting that it not only would save taxpayers money but also would make the documents available more quickly.

As to McCain’s first point, the Federal Election Commission would save the $100,000 per year it pays to convert the paper filings into electronic documents, according to the Campaign Finance Institute.

And the recent ricin scare has fueled the idea that the Senate needs to immediately address the issue.

Currently, Senate campaign reports are mailed to the Secretary of the Senate before they are scanned and sent to the FEC. When ricin was detected in one of the Senate office buildings in late January, mail services were halted and the office buildings were closed just as the year-end campaign reports were to be disclosed.

“The ricin scare delayed mailings,” said Steve Weissman, author of the Campaign Finance Institute’s report on electronic filing. “And obviously that meant that disclosure was delayed. It underlines the need for the Senate to move into the modern world and adopt the exact same technology that people are using to report campaign contributions and expenditures if they are House candidates, PACs or political parties.”

McCain agreed. “This is just more efficient,” he said. “It just makes sense.”

He added, “Obviously the Senate doesn’t always do things that make sense.”