Legislation & policy analysis

Bipartisan Bills Bring Senate Disclosure into 21st Century

Late last week, Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced two campaign finance-related bills: the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act (e-file bill) and the Sunlight for Unaccountable Non-profits (SUN) Act. Both were also introduced previously in the 114th Congress.

The bipartisan, widely popular e-file bill saves money by requiring U.S. Senate candidates to file their campaign finance reports electronically, rather than on paper — like all other federal candidates. According to the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would save taxpayers $500,000 a year. In addition, it enhances disclosure of campaign fundraising and spending, allowing the public to see who is contributing to candidates for higher office. Without e-filing, voters only know about these disclosures after the fact when it is too late to use the information. A count by the CPI reports that “more than 60 sitting senators plan to co-sponsor the bill this year or have previously supported Senate e-filing.” There’s no reason this bill should continue to languish, especially with such broad, bipartisan support.

The SUN Act takes on politically active nonprofits and would require the IRS to make public, in an online and searchable format, the donors who give more than $5,000 to tax-exempt groups that engage in electioneering activities. By exploiting loopholes in the law, nonprofits currently evade donor disclosure requirements that apply to traditional political organizations  — what is often called “dark money” spending.

Both of these bills drive home a central point: If senators and federal candidates know exactly who donated money supporting their campaigns, so should the public.