The Edmond Sun


March 17, 2014

Kansas City Star: U.S. Senate clings to old-fashioned, costly secrecy

KANSAS CITY — Candidates for the U.S. Senate stand alone in the world of campaign finance disclosure. Alone and behind the times, unnecessarily secretive and indefensibly wasteful.

Unlike their counterparts vying for the U.S. House, Senate candidates are allowed to file required campaign finance disclosure forms the old-fashioned way, on paper, delivered by mail.

By clinging to that system, it sometimes means donors won’t be revealed until after the votes are counted. And the resistance to electronic filing also costs U.S. taxpayers more than $400,000 annually to convert paper reports into easily accessible online records.

Even after years of efforts to give the public quicker access to information about who is contributing how much in Senate races, the Senate has rebuffed and ignored pleas for mandating Internet reporting.

As a result, the majority still choose the slow road to public information. It need not be that way. Nothing prevents Senate candidates from choosing to file online.

Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri is the only one of our area’s four senators to volunteer for the electronic option _ and the only one who co-sponsored legislation to require electronic filing, legislation that still hasn’t passed. The other three current senators, all Republicans, opt for costly, slow disclosures.

Why raise this issue now? Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote the importance of open government and freedom of information, begins today. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public’s right to know.

And it’s a mid-term election year when voters deserve to know as quickly as possible about candidates’ fund raising.

Online technology makes sense for the Senate reports, which can run hundreds of pages long. Campaigns already keep electronic records. And even the laggards are well-aware and well-versed in everything Internet when it comes to getting out the messages they want.

A dozen nonpartisan, open-government organizations pleaded with the Senate to change the rules last year: “The absence of electronic filing for Senate candidates is a formula for continuing to keep the American people in the dark about the campaign finance activities of Senate candidates.”

Still, because of threats of filibusters, poison-pill amendments and other obstructionist tactics, the exemption remains.

Let your senators hear from you. A simple change demanded by voters will bring contribution reports quickly into the public realm and allow voters to be able to use the information to help form opinions about candidates.

Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, who faces a primary challenger, supports the change: “According to the Federal Election Commission, the current system adds $430,000 annually to the cost of processing these reports. Requiring electronic filing for Senate candidates will eliminate these costs, save taxpayer money, improve efficiency and increase transparency.”

That said, because of the paper requirement, he opts not to file electronically. It’s a common refrain, even among some co-sponsors of the legislation that would require e-filing. For the record, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri doesn’t file electronically, and neither does Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran.

Editorial pages across the nation are uniting in a call for quicker disclosure through Internet filings.

Join us and make sure that the next Senate candidate donors are easy for anyone with a computer to review. Requiring disclosure but then not making information available in a timely fashion is unreasonable.

The Senate has no business blocking the public’s right to know.

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If the Republican runoff for the 5th District congressional seat were today, which candidate would you vote for?

Patrice Douglas
Steve Russell
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