If there is anything that can capture how poorly the U.S. Senate handles its campaign financial record, S. 219 comes pretty close. Also known as the Senate Campaign Disclosure Act, the bill asks only that Senate candidates file designations, statements, and reports directly in electronic form – something Presidential and House candidates already do…very, very slowly.
Now, Senate candidates must print out their campaigns’ financial records, fill out the FEC report forms using a typewriter, bundle the hundreds of sheets and either walk them down or mail, not e-mail, them to the Office of the Secretary of the Senate. There the Senate candidates’ (or rather their assistants’) responsibilities end.
The Secretary of the Senate then scans each page and emails it to the Federal Election Commission. From the FEC’s inbox, the hundreds of thousands of pages are then printed and bound, boxed up and shipped to a government contractor in Virginia. There, workers manually re-enter all of the data in each of those reports, meaning weeks before voters can see where candidates’ money comes from and where it goes.
Once the FEC scans the reports, they are available to the public, but they are neither searchable nor viewable online. Earlier versions of this bill have died in the Senate since 2007, even earlier this year.
The cost of this arcane process? $450,000 every year, according to NPR. The price of the new bill? Virtually nothing. (Oh, and a better informed public is also free.)