After Years of Obstruction, Congress Passes Electronic Filing Requirement for Senate Candidates

Despite opposition from McConnell, legislation ending the use of paper forms for campaign finance reporting is close to becoming law.

After Years of Obstruction, Congress Passes Electronic Filing Requirement for Senate Candidates
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

Congress on Thursday passed legislation requiring Senate candidates to file their campaign finance forms electronically, something that’s already required for candidates for the House of Representatives and the presidency.  

The change means that the public will have more timely access to campaign finance information, and the data are less likely to contain errors caused by bad data entry. It will also save the federal government an estimated $898,000 per year.  

The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and included in an appropriations bill to fund Congress and other parts of the government. The final bill passed in the House on Thursday by a vote of 377-20 after having passed the Senate a day earlier by a vote of 92-5.

Government transparency advocates and some senators have been supporting electronic filing legislation since the early 2000s, when all House and presidential candidates were required to stop using paper forms. The Senate’s insistence on allowing candidates to continue filing on paper meant that public access to information about who funds candidates’ campaigns was delayed by weeks, or even months.

“For years, Mitch McConnell has blocked every effort to bring the Senate into the era of digitized campaign finance reporting, which not only slowed down disclosure of Senate campaign finance filings for months at a time, but also was costly to taxpayers,” Craig Holman of government watchdog Public Citizen said in a statement to Sludge. “The Secretary of the Senate had to compile all the paper reports and the FEC had to convert them into a digital database for online posting. It is way past time the Senate joins all other candidates for House and the presidency in filing electronically.”

Despite having bipartisan support in the Senate for more than a decade, the electronic-filing bill has been repeatedly blocked by Republican senators, often doing the bidding of their leader, McConnell. The bill was often the target of secret holds, a parliamentary tactic allowing senators to block legislation on behalf of an unidentified colleague, and poison pill amendments, which are controversial pieces of legislation that lawmakers attach to an otherwise non-controversial bill in order to kill it.

The bill was able to finally pass after senators attached it to an appropriations bill that would have been politically difficult for McConnell and his colleagues to oppose.

“McConnell couldn’t kill the filing requirement without also killing necessary government appropriations for veterans, military projects and congressional operations,” Holman said. “This is not how Congress is supposed to work, but I’ll take this as a victory, nonetheless.”