Editorialists, government watchdog groups and bloggers have been railing against — and trying to smoke out — a mysterious Republican “Sen. Anonymous” who is blocking a simple bill to require electronic filing of Senate campaign finance reports. The attention is misdirected.
It should be brought to bear on the entire Senate, but especially its Republican leadership, which did nothing about the ridiculous, expensive and anachronistic practice of paper filing for the most recent four years that it was in the majority and now is failing to use its persuasive power on the Senator or Senators blocking the bill.
Republicans presume to be the party of efficient government and fiscal responsibility, yet the Senate filing system is a mockery of both principles. It requires transferring mostly electronic contribution and expenditure reports compiled by campaigns onto paper for delivery to the Secretary of the Senate, whose office then scans each page — more than 10,000 total pages last year — back into digital form to send to the Federal Election Commission, which then takes 11 hours to print them all out on paper again for shipment to a private contractor that re-keys them into a digital format at a cost of $250,000.
This is such an indefensible waste of time, work and money that a digital filing bill — already required of House campaigns, lobbyists and party political committees — should have 100 Senate co-sponsors and should have been passed by unanimous consent immediately when it was brought up by Senate Rules and Administration Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on April 17.
In fact the bill, S. 223, is sponsored by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and has 38 co-sponsors — 21 Democrats, 15 Republicans and two Independents. The Democrats include Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) but not Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.). Two members of the Republican leadership team are co-sponsors but not Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) or Minority Whip Trent Lott (Miss.).
On April 17, when Feinstein asked for unanimous consent to bring up the bill, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) objected, saying he was acting “on behalf of a Republican Senator.” Feinstein tried again on April 27. This time, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) objected “on behalf of the Republican side.”
McConnell told Roll Call that “a couple of people on my side want to offer an amendment” to the bill and said that Reid should bring it up under regular order. He would not identify the Senators or their amendments and said that Reid had not even discussed the bill with him.
Democrats are worried that if the bill is brought up for full debate, it will turn into a vehicle for a long and contentious squabble over campaign finance reform. Reid obviously should talk to McConnell, but it’s up to Republicans to come forward with their amendments to see if an arrangement can be worked out to pass the bill. McConnell predicted that the measure would be passed eventually. But he ought to make it happen with dispatch. This really is a no-brainer.