Appropriators are making a move to boost transparency for the historically opaque Senate with a provision to require candidates to file their campaign disclosures electronically.
House and Senate appropriators came to an agreement Monday on a roughly $147.4 billion fiscal 2019 three-bill spending package that includes a $4.8 billion Legislative Branch title to fund Congress, the Capitol Police and other Capitol Hill agencies. The package also includes the Energy-Water and Military Construction-VA titles.
And it contains the “e-file” requirement for Senate candidates, years after the requirement was implemented in the House. Campaigns for the House and the presidency have been required to e-file since 2001, and they’ve been able to do so even longer.
Instead of filing actual paperwork with the secretary of the Senate, who then sends it along to the Federal Election Commission, the language would mandate that candidates file electronically directly to the FEC. The change would decrease the lag time for filings to be made public, which can take weeks.
Advocates for the effort say it would save taxpayer money: a little under $900,000 a year, according to FEC estimates.
The Senate Appropriations Committee floated the language last year in its proposed bill, but it did not make it into the fiscal 2018 omnibus funding law.
The measure also includes a $174,000 payment to the family of the late Sen. John McCain.
The Senate Handbook indicates that the gratuity, which is usually inserted into the next spending bill on the move after a lawmaker dies, is to be paid to the “next of kin” in the amount of one year’s compensation.
The fiscal 2018 omnibus spending bill gave $174,000 to an heir of the late New York Democrat Louise M. Slaughter, the former House Rules chairwoman. She died just four days before the omnibus bill text was released, but lawmakers ensured that the gift was included in the Legislative Branch spending title. By statute, a death gratuity is considered a gift.
The Legislative Branch title of the conference committee report contains $928.5 million for Senate operations and $1.2 billion for the House.
For the first time, Legislative Branch appropriators specifically set aside funds to pay Capitol Hill interns. The final version includes $8.8 million to pay House interns and $5 million for Senate intern pay. The Senate funding is included in the accounts that lawmakers use to pay staff salaries, official travel and office expenses. In the House, the funds will exist in a newly created account for each member office, according to House Appropriations Committee staff.
“We have bipartisan support for an internship program that recognizes the fiscal realities of young people being able to take advantage of the experience of a lifetime,” House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey said last week.
House member offices will get $20,000 to pay interns. On the Senate side, funding will be allocated so offices will receive an average of $50,000 for intern compensation, with exact amounts depending on the state. For example, Florida senators are estimated to be allocated $66,200, compared to $46,000 for Rhode Island senators.
Security and anti-harassment
The bill would fund Capitol Police at $456.3 million, an increase of $29.8 million above the fiscal year 2018 enacted level. The funding boost would be used to enhance safety in garages and increase prescreening.
Concern about the safety of lawmakers when they are away from the Capitol has been growing since the 2017 shooting at a GOP baseball practice in Virginia. Of the Capitol Police funds, $1 million will be used to expand protections of members at events away from the Capitol, according to a Senate Appropriations summary.
The bill would also increase by $1.4 million, to $6.3 million, spending for the Office of Compliance, which oversees workplace safety and anti-harassment training and response.
These funds, along with the $147.6 million for the House chief administrative officer, will support the House’s effort to respond to sexual harassment in the workplace on Capitol Hill. The increase comes after some lawmakers resigned or said they would not seek re-election following allegations of harassment and news that they settled harassment complaints with taxpayer dollars.
Currently, the OOC has no staff member devoted solely to training. The office requested money to hire additional attorneys and administrative employees to free up staff to provide training. The increase also reflects the expansion of the OOC’s role in dispute resolution for Library of Congress employees.
Funding proposed for other legislative branch agencies includes:
- Library of Congress: The library would see an increase of $26 million above fiscal 2018 levels, to $696 million.
- Architect of the Capitol: The office would get a $21.6 million boost over enacted levels, to $733.7 million. This includes $62 million for continued restoration and renovation of the Cannon House Office Building, a project that is nearing completion of its first phase.
- Government Accountability Office: The watchdog agency would be funded at $589.75 million, the same as the fiscal 2018 enacted level.
- Government Publishing Office: The GPO is also set for flat-funding at $117 million.
Kate Ackley contributed to this report.