Legislation & policy analysis

Senate candidates to begin e-filing campaign finance reports after Issue One-backed policy is signed into law

U.S. Senate candidates will begin electronically filing their campaign finance reports in October thanks to a provision contained in an appropriations bill signed into law today by President Donald Trump.

The provision — supported by a bipartisan majority of sitting senators and broad coalition of more than 20 advocacy organizations led by Issue One — was first introduced in the Senate in 2003. Montana Senators Jon Tester (D) and Steve Daines (R) championed this policy change this Congress, including throughout the appropriations process.

“Today is a long overdue victory for supporters of government transparency and commonsense, bipartisan political reform,” said Issue One Executive Director Meredith McGehee. “Issue One was proud to lead a coalition of organizations in support of this measure that built on the decade-plus worth of work by many other advocacy organizations from across the political spectrum. This is a down payment on disclosure, and we believe it is a harbinger of more bipartisan work in the future.”

Senate candidates will begin filing their campaign finance reports for the 2019 fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1, 2018 through Sept. 30, 2019.

Other advocates who joined Issue One in advocating for this commonsense policy change also praised this development.

Added Sarah Bonk, founder of Business for America: “Kudos to the Senate for embracing this commonsense provision leveraging better use of technology to increase transparency and accountability, while simultaneously reducing complexity and saving taxpayer money. We need to continue to find ways to deploy better technology and best practices to make government work better for everyone.”

Added Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center and a former Republican chairman of the Federal Election Commission: “The Senate has finally joined the 21st century by moving to e-filing system, years after it was implemented in the House. This will save taxpayers nearly $1 million every year, enhance transparency and help to increase accuracy. Citizens will finally be able to view and search the actual Senate reports online and watchdog organizations will be able to better monitor and analyze campaign activity. After years of advocating for this change, we are happy that the public’s right to timely and accurate election data will no longer be buried under a mountain of paper.”

Added Daniel Schuman, policy director of Demand Progress Action: “At long last the Senate will join the 21st century — and the rest of the government — at least when it comes to the electronic filing of campaign finance reports. This move will greatly increase the accuracy of reporting while saving taxpayers almost a million dollars annually. The measure has long enjoyed overwhelming, bipartisan support from senators, and we are glad to see that the final, remaining obstacle has been cleared.”

Added Chris Carson, the president of the League of Women Voters: “The League of Women Voters is delighted that a provision requiring Senate candidates to electronically file their campaign finance reports is now law. The requirement enhances government transparency and saves taxpayers money. The inclusion of this provision, in the minibus appropriations bill, will give voters the opportunity to know who is funding the political campaigns of our most trusted leaders in a timely manner. This is a victory for government transparency.”

Added Edwin Bender, executive director of the National Institute on Money in Politics: “Welcome to the 21st century, senators! We are thrilled that the public will finally have immediate access to important donor information for U.S. Senate candidates and members. Timely transparency is the heart of a modern, accountable public policy process. For without transparency there is no accountability. Congratulations!”

Added Lisa Rosenberg, executive director of Open the Government: “By clinging to an antiquated, expensive system of reporting their campaign finance information on paper, the Senate has for too long thumbed its nose at voters’ right to information.  At long last, senators have entered the information age by passing a law that requires them to report their campaign receipts and expenditures electronically. We applaud this small step that will help keep politicians accountable to voters.”

Added Kevin R. Kosar, vice president of policy at the R Street Institute: “Congress deserves our praise for ending this costly, anachronistic practice.”

Added John Wonderlich, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation: “It’s about time. The Senate’s move to finally embrace e-filing corrects the longstanding, egregious waste of money that was the paper-based filing process. Hopefully the collaboration that this bill represents can lead to the other urgent legislation necessary to shoring up our campaign finance laws.”

Added John Pudner, the executive director of Take Back Our Republic: “I applaud the move to open the door for campaign filings in the Senate to be e-filed, just as they are in the House. This commonsense reform increases transparency and accessibility for the public, and it simplifies the process for candidates. It is long overdue.”

The switch to e-filing will save taxpayers just under $900,000 a year, according to the Federal Election Commission.

The change is also expected to increase the accuracy of the records maintained by the FEC. According to a recent investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, digital records associated with Senate campaign finance reports were ten times more likely to contain errors than records associated with the electronically filed records of House campaign finance reports. The Center for Public Integrity’s investigation identified more than 5,900 Senate records since 2016 with inaccuracies — totaling more than $70 million — “traceable to the government’s conversion of paper [campaign finance reports] into electronic data.”