A 3,400-Page Paper Trail

A 3,400-Page Paper Trail


With the House continuing its tussle over ethics reform this week, now seems like an apt moment to pause and highlight the simultaneous, ongoing Senate refusal to evolve on issues of campaign finance disclosure.

While House and presidential candidates are required to file their disclosures electronically (enabling anyone to readily search them online within 24 hours through databases like Opensecrets.org), the Senate ploddingly continues to insist on filing in paper form. Accordingly, to see Senate disclosures before they’re entered in the FEC electronic database (a process that can take weeks or months), anyone feeling inquisitive must make a special pilgrimage to leaf through a candidate’s paper trail–some that run as long as 3,400 pages.

It’s tough to defend the absurd system (which requires the government to pay $250,000 for a contractor in Fredericksburg, Virginia to laboriously re-type candidate reports); not surprisingly, few Senate members vocally defend the practice. Nevertheless, while Sens. Feingold (D-Wis.) and Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced electronic filing legislation last spring, their bill was stymied by secret Republican holds (a rather ignoble parliamentary move, banned last fall, that permitted any member object to legislation while remaining anonymous–for details, see Slate’s run-down on the practice here).

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