Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act of 2007
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The Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act (S.223), cosponsored by Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), along with a bipartisan cross-section of 36 other senators, would require senators to file their campaign finance reports electronically to the Federal Election Commission. Currently reports are disseminated in paper form often long after they are initially filed, preventing voters from obtaining financial disclosure information in a timely fashion. It was introduced on January 9, 2007 but has yet to come to a vote due to a number of "secret holds" issued by anonymous Senators.
Organizations including the Campaign Finance Institute (CFI) and the Sunlight Foundation have publicly supported the bill. CFI argues that the U.S. Supreme Court [in the 1976 case of Buckley v. Valeo (424 U.S. 1)] declared that one of the fundamental purposes of disclosure is to make important information available in a timely fashion, before an election, so that voters can use the information when making their election choices. This objective, according to both CFI and Sunlight, is frustrated by the absence of mandatory electronic disclosure for Senate elections.
No arguments have been articulated publicly in opposition to this bill's provisions.
- 1 Current status
- 2 Bill summary
- 3 Support, opposition and critiques
- 4 Bill history
- 4.1 First "secret hold" blocks bill
- 4.2 Second "secret hold" blocking bill
- 4.3 Sen. Feinstein appeals to Republican leader for support
- 4.4 Senate Republicans attempt "poison pill" amendment
- 4.5 Sen. Ensign tries to add provision requiring watchdogs to reveal donors
- 4.6 Sen. Ensign again blocks bill; insists on amendment
- 4.7 Sen. Ensign refuses to compromise; insists on amendment
- 5 Articles and resources
The bill has yet to come to the Senate floor for a vote. Numerous attempts (described below) to bring the bill up have been blocked. <USbillinfo congress="110" bill="S.223" />
The Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act of 2007 would require all senators to immediately file their quarterly campaign finance reports electronically.
At the time the bill was introduced, senators filed their reports with the Secretary of the Senate, who then printed them out and delivered them in paper form to the FEC. The FEC was then forced to input them into their computer databases to be accessed by the public online.
The whole process cost $250,000 a year and prevented citizens from viewing Senate campaign finance information until months after the data was initially filed. Campaign finance data filed in the fourth quarter prior to an election was typically not accessible to the public until February of the next year, well after the election had taken place.
Voters lacked information prior to 2004, 2006 elections
In support of the bill, the Campaign Finance Institute detailed how voters seeking information on recent contributions to Senate candidates prior to the 2006 election often lacked access to such information. For example, voters in 6 of the top ten Senate races were unable to access relevant election contribution data after June 30, 2006. Moreover, in all 10 of these highly-contested races, voters could not access financial information from October, the month preceding the election. Similarly, prior to the 2004 election, voters lacked financial information from July through late-October on 85% of senators.
Senate already used software compatible with FEC electronic filing
According to a 2003 report by the Campaign Finance Institute, at the time 98 senators used software compatible with the FEC's electronic filing system. Given the software compatibility, the Institute argued that there were few barriers to quickly releasing financial information online.
Support, opposition and critiques
There was no prominent public opposition to the bill.
First "secret hold" blocks bill
On April 17, 2007, Sens. Feinstein and Feingold brought the bill to the floor for a unanimous consent motion. Upon asking for unanimous consent on this seemingly non-controversial bill, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) objected to the bill for an anonymous senator from the Republican side. This anonymous objection amounted to a senator placing a “secret hold” on the bill, effectively stopping it.
Led by the Sunlight Foundation, a collection of blogs from the left and the right (Daily Kos, David All, Mark Tapscott, GOP Progress, Instapundit, Crooks & Liars, and Firedoglake) combined their efforts to "out" the anonymous senator blocking the bill from passing.
Eventually, the final two senators who did not confirm whether they were responsible for anonymous objection were Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.). On April 23, Sen. Kyl issued a denial and the next day The Washington Post reported a denial from Sen. Gregg’s office.
Second "secret hold" blocking bill
On April 26, Sens. Feingold and Feinstein attempted to bring the bill up for unanimous consent again. This time, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) registered another anonymous objection from the Republican side, blocking it again. 
The Sunlight Foundation continued to try and discover the identity of the anonymous senator, this time by seeking to procure the name from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Since all objections to legislation must be lodged with the party leader, McConnell was sure to know who was behind the objection.
McConnell refused to release the name of the senator behind the objection. He stated that the failure of the bill's passage lied at the feet of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for refusing to bring the bill up for a floor vote. Feingold and Feinstein argued that the bill must pass by unanimous consent to avoid unnecessary amendments. McConnell admitted that the objecting senator wished to add amendments to the bill.
Sen. Feinstein appeals to Republican leader for support
On May 7, 2007, Sen. Feinstein sent a letter to Sen. McConnell asking for his help in passing the bill. Sen. Feinstein wrote, "I am ready to meet with [the objecting] Senators to discuss their amendments and try to address their concerns."McConnell has not publicly responded.
Senate Republicans attempt "poison pill" amendment
On June 26, 2007, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) argued that he would not allow S.1, an important lobbying reform bill (which had passed), to go into conference unless Senate Republicans were allowed to add an amendment to S.233 (a so-called "poison pill" amendment). The amendment would allow party committees, like the RNC or the DSCC, to coordinate campaign activities with candidate committees. The amendment was widely opposed to by a majority of Democrats and would not only make S. 223's passage impossible in conference, or in the House, but also endanger the entire lobbying and ethics reform package.
Sen. Ensign tries to add provision requiring watchdogs to reveal donors
On September 27, 2007 Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) did not deny that he was behind the secret hold on S.233 but stated that he did not remember whether the hold was made on his behalf or not. Ensign first acknowledged the possibility of his being behind the hold on September 25, when he said he had had objections to provisions in the bill and did not want it to move forward without changes. On September 27, Ensign acknowledged that he had been working behind the scenes to alter the bill's language. His staff, however, had denied that the senator had placed a hold on the bill after it was reported out of the Senate Rules Committee on March 28. Ensign said that he brought his concerns to Rules panel Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). However, her staff denied this. 
Ensign said that he did not oppose the bill, but wanted an amendment considered to the bill that would require outside groups filing ethics complains against senators to disclose their own donors. Democrats objected to the amendment's consideration, saying that it was unrelated and should be taken up separately. 
Sen. Ensign again blocks bill; insists on amendment
On November 1, 2007, the Senate was deadlocked over legislation that would require members to file their campaign finance forms electronically. Due to a lengthy process for submitting forms, it’s taken months for Senate campaign filings to become publicly available. Although Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) received much support when he first introduced the legislation in April, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) once again stepped in the way of the bill. He wanted to add an amendment so that complaints are not anonymous anymore, but many supporters called it a ploy and said that it was irrelevant. Democrats offered Ensign an opportunity to offer his amendment in committee but Tory Mazzola, a spokesman for Ensign said the offer amounted to a "backdoor way to kill an amendment," adding "Senator Ensign is looking for an up-or-down vote." 
Sen. Ensign refuses to compromise; insists on amendment
On December 3rd, 2007, Roll Call newspaper reported that Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) refused to accept an offer from Rules and Administration Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.) to hold a hearing on his amendment as a stand alone bill if he dropped his objection to the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act. Sen. Ensign's amendment would require any outside group filing an ethics complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee to disclose their donor list. In a letter to Sen. Feinstein, Ensign voiced his reasons for offering the amendment, "In the Senate, complaints do not have to be sworn, signed, or even identified, and they can be submitted by a person or an unnamed group and no one will ever know. They can be on a beverage napkin or written in crayon. In contrast, the House ... has very formal, rigorous requirements for filing complaints." Sen. Feinstein's office was unhappy about Sen. Ensign's dismissal of her offer, "Now is not the time to try to encumber the bill with a potential poison pill that has triggered broad ideologically diverse public opposition."
Articles and resources
- "Will the Senate Surrender Its Exemption from Federal Electronic Disclosure of Campaign Finance Reports During the Lame Duck Session? The Ball is in Senator Trent Lott's Court," Campaign Finance Institute, November 14, 2006.
- "3 Days before 2004 Election, Voters Were in the Dark about 85% of Contributions to U.S. Senate Candidates Since July," Campaign Finance Institute, April 4, 2005.
- "Senators Refuse To File Their Financial Reports Electronically, Delaying Public Disclosure - But New CFI Survey Shows Senate Candidates Use Electronic Software To Prepare The Reports," Campaign Finance Institute, October 23, 2007.
- Mosk, Matthew. "Mystery of Hold Wrapped in Enigma," Washington Post, April 25, 2007.
- Blumenthal, Paul. "Another Objection! S.223 Still Blocked.," Sunlight Foundation, April 26, 2007.
- Blumenthal, Paul. "Watch Bunning Block the Bill," Sunlight Foundation, April 26, 2007.
- Blumenthal, Paul. "McConnell Won’t Let the Bill Move," Sunlight Foundation, April 27, 2007.
- Editorial. "No-Brainer," Roll Call, May 2, 2007.
- Blumenthal, Paul. "Feinstein asks for McConnell's help on S.223," Sunlight Foundation, May 9, 2007.
- Paul Blumenthal. "Upping the Ante on McConnell as Senate Republicans Try Trickery." The Sunlight Foundation. June 26, 2007.
- Manu Raja, "Ensign scrambles to explain objections to disclosure bill," The Hill, September 26, 2007.
- Manu Raja, "Ensign scrambles to explain objections to disclosure bill," The Hill, September 26, 2007.
- Matthew Mosk, “Another Snag for Electronic-Filing Bill," The Washington Post, Nov. 2, 2007.
- Pierce, Emily. "Ensign Tells Feinstein He Won’t Budge on Filing Bill," Roll Call, December 3, 2007.