- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 25, 2014

With the midterm elections quickly approaching, third-quarter campaign finance reports for Senate candidates are still unavailable for public viewing because, unlike other federal bodies, the Senate still requires that candidates file official reports on paper.

A notice on the Federal Election Commission’s online disclosure portal laments a slower-than average filing delay this year, due to an unusually large volume of reports.

“Unusually large paper reports filed by U.S. Senate candidates in the third quarter of the current cycle have overwhelmed our processing capacity, slowing public disclosure of those reports,” the FEC’s notice reads.

“Total page numbers far exceed all previous election cycles, and the Senate Public Records Office is continuing to process and forward additional campaign reports to the Commission. We regret the delay and are taking urgent action to publish copies of all Senate reports as quickly as possible.”

This is the first time the FEC has made a statement on its website addressing the ongoing issue.

“This is a bolder step by the commission to highlight the lack of electronic filing,” said Kent Cooper, a former FEC employee and campaign finance journalist.

The delay is especially troubling at this stage of the cycle as Senate candidates gear up for what is sure to be a heated battle for Senate leadership.

“The pre-election report is the last big disclosure report, and it’s really the last opportunity for voters to see the interest groups and donors who are contributing to general election candidates and that’s important because it helps educate the voter to the types of people who are gravitating toward that candidate. It gives you a little better idea of where that candidate stands on certain issues,” Mr. Cooper said, but warned that the files still might not be available to view electronically for another week due to a lack of manpower at the FEC.

The FEC believes there are at least 10,000 pages of records that still need to be sent over from the Secretary of Senate’s office, more than a week after the filing deadline.

Each report can contain thousands of pages of listed donors and expenditures that workers must manually scan into the system, one by one.

The Washington Post reported that the filing of Rep. Bruce Braley, the Democratic Senate candidate for Iowa, alone is 26,000 pages long.

According to Mr. Cooper, recent changes to the paper format also account for the length of the reports, including limiting the number of donors listed per page to three.

“As a result you’ve doubled the paper volume right off the bat,” Mr. Cooper said, adding that the FEC knew the change was coming and did nothing to ramp up staff to handle the increase.

“It’s very cost-ineffective, very inefficient, it just delays disclosure and hides it from the eyes of the voters,” he said.

It costs the FEC more than $430,000 to scan all the paper reports filed by Senate candidate each year, according to the FEC’s 2013 recommendation to Congress.

Earlier this year Senate candidates were given the opportunity to voluntarily file their reports electronically, but even if a candidate opted for electronic disclosure, a paper report still must be filed as well.

“You do have the option to file electronically, but it doesn’t count as the official report,” said Michael Toner, a former FEC Chairman. “You have to file the paper report by the due date to meet the reporting obligations.”

Although Congress has continued to propose mandatory electronic filing, the Senate has not yet passed such legislation and with higher-profile issues such as immigration pending, it’s unlikely such legislation will be passed before the current session of Congress has ended.

“It’s a collision of modern technology and Senate prerogative,” Mr. Toner said.

The entire commission, made up of three Republican and three Democratic commissioners, supports mandated electronic filing for Senate candidates.

The Washington Times contacted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, to inquire about possible legislative proposals to mandate electronic filing, but did not receive a response.

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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