Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Ask Senators Nelson and Hagel to Embrace Online Reporting

by Kyle Michaelis
The Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act (S.223) has been introduced in the Senate by a bipartisan coalition led by Russ Feingold (WI) and including such Senators as John Kerry (MA), Barack Obama (IL), Dianne Feinstein (CA), John McCain (AZ), and Ken Salazar (CO). The Sunlight Foundation explains this worthy and long-overdue reform of the U.S. Senate's rules for Campaign Finance reporting:
Before an election, money pours into the coffer of candidates. And because of online reporting, the press, citizens and you can see which lobby groups are trying hardest to buy their lawmakers' favor...except if the candidate is running for the Senate.

Election rules require every candidate for the House of Representatives and the Presidency to file finance reports online with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Voters can immediately see which interest groups are supporting each candidate.

Yet despite nearly seven years of grassroots efforts, the Senate has refused to subject itself to the same rule. Senators file their campaign finance reports on paper, and then taxpayers pay a quarter of a million dollars for those paper results to be entered into a computer, which is then shared with the public months after the contributions are made and weeks after they are filed.

Members of the public go into the voting booth not knowing who has paid for the campaigns of the people for whom they are voting. In 2004, voters entered the voting booth while $53 million in campaign contributions were still unreported.

It's time to bring some transparency to the Senate. Please tell your Senators that you want them to support S. 223 that would require FEC reports to be filed online.
The bill is now in the Committee on Rules and Administration of which Sen. Ben Nelson and Sen. Chuck Hagel are both members. According to the Sunlight Foundation, it is important that the bill leaves committee without amendments or it will be killed.

Nelson, Hagel, and the entire U.S. Senate should not fear accountability and citizen oversight. Nor should they feel entitled to play by different rules than the U.S. House and Presidential candidates. Online campaign finance reporting has been a positive step for our democracy, giving citizens and sites such as this the power to exercise an important check on the corrupting influence of money in politics.

Please sign the Sunlight Foundation's online petition, and contact Senators Nelson and Hagel to ask that they support S.223 - as is - on behalf of the people of Nebraska, itself home to one of the best and most progressive campaign finance systems in the country.

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Anonymous Jon Rehm said...

I agree with full disclosure and some form of public financing. Otherwise I think campaigns should be free-for-alls only governed by the criminal code. The voter ought to know what they are getting and the government has an interest in promoting competetive elections. Other than that anything goes.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...


There's certainly a logic to what you're saying, and it's well-supported by the U.S. Supreme Court's equating campaign contributions with free speech. The caps that exist today are entirely arbitrary and have done little but force the proliferation of 527s.

I couldn't agree more that full disclosure and public financing would be far preferable to McCain-Feingold, but it might take McCain-Feingold to serve as the necessary first step towards these reforms. At least, that's what I'm hoping.

Anonymous Dave Sund said...

A couple of points:

- It looks like both Nelson and Hagel have signed up as cosponsors for this bill.

- I think the single most important step has to be lowering the barriers to entry. The internet is doing a lot of that for us, and we have to remain vigilant that, in the name of reform, they don't inadvertently raise the cost of entry into the political process.

- Other than that, steps like these, to increase disclosure, and steps like Sen. Durbin's bill to provide for public financing, are very positive - and allow us to move toward a more responsible government. One that is responsive to the people and not their campaign contributors.


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