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Second Try for Speedy Senate Disclosure

March 11, 2009 - by Avelino Maestas

Late last month, Sen. Russ Feingold introduced the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act of 2009. The bill would require members of the Senate to file their quarterly campaign finance disclosure forms electronically. While the House of Representatives already does this (and has for 10 years), senators submit their forms on paper. The forms have to be packed up by the Secretary of the Senate and sent to the Federal Elections Commission, where staff manually type the information into a database. Proponents of the bill say the current process is not only expensive (costing taxpayers $250,000 a year), but stifles the spirit of disclosure the forms are meant to promote.

In the 110th Congress, the bill (S.223) had 47 cosponsors, and already this year 29 senators have signaled their support. There is no acknowledged opposition or criticism of the bill’s provisions, while a number of good-government groups (like OpenCongress partner The Sunlight Foundation) support the bill.

So what’s the hold up? Last time around, it was Sen. John Ensign, trying to attach an amendment targeting outside groups that file ethics complaints against senators (you can read more about it at the OpenCongress Wiki). This year, it’s Sen. Pat Roberts insisting on the amendment, which would force those groups to reveal their donors after lodging a complaint. That means the Senate can’t consider S.482 under unanimous consent, the quickest way to approve legislation.

Today, the Sunlight Foundation launched a campaign to Pass S.482. They’re asking that constituents call their senators, urge them to co-sponsor the bill, and reject the Roberts amendment. The web site is tracking where each senator stands on the legislation, and which ones still need to be called.

The stakes are pretty clear – during the final weeks of the 2008 election, the public could access campaign finance records for the House and presidential races. But it takes weeks and sometimes months to get that information online for Senate candidates. Want to help change that?

Image (used under a Creative Commons license) by D. Sharon Pruitt.

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