Senators resist reporting finances online

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Senators are dragging their feet on making it mandatory for their campaign contributions and expenditures to be reported electronically, says a campaign watchdog group.

A report released recently by the Campaign Finance Institute shows senators do not regularly file their campaign’s financial reports online directly to the Federal Election Commission, making it difficult for the journalists and watchdog groups to get timely information about their contributions and spending.

House members, presidential candidates and affiliated political action committees are required legally to file electronically.

“Every journalist I’ve spoken to has this problem of getting up-to-date information on the campaigns,” said Steve Weissman, spokesman for the Campaign Finance Institute.

The report says House campaigns and other political committees filed electronically with the FEC all contributions for July, August and September by Oct. 15, and “within 24 hours” the reports could be searched on the FEC Web site.

“But as late as Oct. 30, just three days before the Nov. 2 elections, the public was unable to benefit from similar searches for 85 [percent] of the $43.5 million in individual contributions to Senate candidates,” the report says.

“And it is not only the contributions, it is the spending, so you can see who they paid and who the consultants are,” Mr. Weissman said.

Senators, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) are only required to file contributions and expenditures in document form with the Secretary of the Senate, who then mails them to the FEC. The FEC then contracts out the duties of entering the data into their computer database for review on its Web site.

Officials with the NRSC and DSCC said they have no problem with either system, and said if the Senate changes its prerogative, they would comply.

Mr. Weissman said the paper system is a waste of taxpayers dollars, adding, “Nobody knows why the Senate does not file electronically.” No senators openly have opposed a change.

The FEC is hoping a change will come soon.

“We made it one of our legislative recommendations this year, but it is the Senate’s prerogative,” said FEC spokesman Ian Stirton.

“The House changed two years ago, and we are requesting that the Senate do it, too. We simply tried to point out that it would be easier to file electronically.”

Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Democrats Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois introduced a bill in the 107th Congress, which in part called for such a change, but the bill never made it out of committee.

“If it ever came up for a vote, [the result] would probably be 100-0,” Mr. Weissman said.

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