Money & Politics

MIA: Senate Campaign Finance Disclosures

Though dozens of Senate candidates have figured out how to use the internet, the Senate doesn't require instantaneous campaign finance disclosure.

MIA: Senate Campaign Finance Disclosures

Given their dilatory disclosure practices, senators might as well be filing campaign finance forms by carrier pigeon. (Photo by: Arterra/UIG via Getty Images)

Today’s the day congressional candidates and most political action committees will be filing their second-quarter campaign finance disclosures with the Federal Election Commission. We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: As the reports become public today, many that the public has an interest in seeing will be missing in action.

It will take weeks before voters can see who’s backing candidates for 34 Senate seats up for election this year.

That’s because the Senate does not require its members, or candidates seeking to become senators, to file their campaign disclosures electronically. Instead of uploading the records by computer to the FEC, like candidates for the House and White House, senators and would-be senators take a more sedate approach, mailing enormous packages of paper (sometimes running thousands of pages) to the Secretary of the Senate, where staffers must then transfer them to the FEC, where staffers must then convert them into electronic format for public viewing.

All at a cost of more than $700,000, which is what taxpayers are paying for the “privilege” of having their access to the records delayed.

The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that analyzes campaign finance disclosures so voters can better evaluate what special interests are funding the candidates, says it can take more than a month to add the Senate records to their database because of the political filing. That can sometimes mean a big loss of transparency: Next month, there will be Senate primaries in Arizona, Missouri and Florida. Voters in those statesĀ could go to the polls knowing less about their candidates because of the Senate’s fondness for doing things the old-fashioned way.

“The Senate self-exemption from e-filing is pure political chicanery,” says CRP’s Sheila Krumholz. “It’s absurd that we have to wait days, and more commonly weeks, for some candidates, when the reports of thousands of House candidates and PAC filers are available within minutes of their being submitted.”

Not all senators are so resistant to being dragged into the 21st century.

Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat who has sponsored legislation to require Senate candidates to file electronically with the FEC, uploads his own records for instantaneous viewing, as do a number of his Senate colleagues. Because not all of the senators participate, and even some e-filers don’t always e-file, the records aren’t official, so the FEC has to wait for the paper copies to add to its database. But the agency does make them available here.

The list of incumbent senators and 2016 Senate hopefuls (names in italics) who uploaded their records electronically in April is below.

1. Al Franken (D-MN)
2. Thad Cochran (R-MS)
3. Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
4. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
5. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
6. Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
7. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
8. Mark Warner (D-VA)
9. Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
10. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
11. Kamala Harris (D-CA)
12. Pat Leahy (D-VT)
13. Martin Heinrich (D-NM)
14. Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
15. Jon Tester (D-MT)
16. Gary Peters (D-MI)
17. Jack Reed (D-RI)
18. Russ Feingold (D-WI)
19. Ted Strickland (D-OH)
20. John Cornyn (R-TX)
21. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
22. Roger Wicker (R-MS)
23. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Kathy Kiely

Kathy Kiely, a Washington, DC-based journalist and teacher, has reported and edited national politics for a number of news organizations, including USA TODAY, National Journal, The New York Daily News and The Houston Post. She been involved in the coverage of every presidential campaign since 1980. Follow her on Twitter: @kathykiely.