Shame on Them

Posted October 2, 2007 at 4:21pm

It’s not only ridiculous — it’s disgusting that Senate Republicans continue to block passage of a simple bill requiring electronic filing of campaign finance reports.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — arch-foe of McCain-Feingold limits on campaign funding and spending — always contended that full public disclosure of donors and expenses was all that was necessary to keep politics clean.

But GOP tactics to block electronic filing reveal those protestations to be utterly hollow. The inescapable conclusion to be drawn from Republicans’ behavior is that they want to keep the business of campaign finance as murky as possible.

House candidates, lobbyists and political committees all have to file official reports digitally, allowing them to be conveniently searched by watchdog groups, the media and the public. The Senate is the exception. Senate campaigns keep electronic records, of course, but current law requires them to be printed out and delivered on paper to the Secretary of the Senate.

The Secretary’s staff then scans the reports — 10,000 total pages last year — back into digital for transmission to the Federal Election Commission, which then prints them all out again and sends them to a contractor to be re-keyed into the FEC format for disclosure online.

When they were in the majority, Republicans did nothing to change this costly, delay-ridden system. This year, in the minority, they have done everything possible to prevent a digital filing bill from coming up for a vote.

They did it first by placing a series of anonymous “holds” on Senate Rules and Administration Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) effort to bring a filing bill to the floor.

Now there’s a new tack. Without revealing whether he was or wasn’t “Sen. Anonymous” — or, perhaps, one of several anonymous holders organized by McConnell — Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) has come forward with a demand that Democrats permit a vote on an amendment requiring any group that files an ethics complaint against a Senator to reveal its donor base.

As Feinstein said, Ensign’s amendment is “not germane” and is a potential “poison pill” designed to kill the filing legislation. If Democrats call up the filing bill under regular order, Republicans likely will filibuster to secure the right to amend the bill. And Democrats well might filibuster to block consideration of Ensign because his target is a left-leaning group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which often files complaints against Republicans.

Senate rules permit outside groups to file ethics complaints and CREW is within its rights to do so. The Ethics Committee can judge any complaint — such as a recent one against Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) growing out of his admitted hiring of prostitutes — on its merits.

Republicans should simply stop blocking electronic filing. If they don’t, shame on them.