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The Simplest Way The Senate Could Increase Transparency And Save Money

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"The Simplest Way The Senate Could Increase Transparency And Save Money"

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Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT)

Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT)

Sen. Jon Tester’s Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act, S. 375, is the rare proposal that would both increase transparency and reduce federal spending. But despite bipartisan support and no obvious opposition, an identical bill died in the last Congress without ever coming up for a vote in a Senate paralyzed by GOP minority obstruction.

An arcane law still allows Senators and Senate candidates to file their campaign finance disclosure statements on paper with the Secretary of the Senate — unlike presidential candidates and campaigns for the House of Representatives — rather than electronically. As a result, those filings are less easily searchable for citizens and require additional processing by the Secretary’s office and the Federal Election Commission. According to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who backed the bill in 2012, the inefficiency costs taxpayers an estimated $430,000 annually.

“This common-sense bill allows folks to know right away who’s funding political campaigns and reflects the accountability and transparency Montanans expect from our elected officials and candidates for public office,” Tester explained in a press release announcing the 2013 version of the bill. “It’s 2013 and high-time for the Senate to bring its campaign finance reporting into the 21st century.” The bill has already attracted 28 co-sponsors, including five Republicans.

At a Senate Rules and Administration Committee hearing last year, Chairman Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called the bill a “no-brainer.” Then-Ranking Member Alexander endorsed it and said it “would fix an obvious problem,” noting that the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) had blocked similar efforts in the past. But, despite his support, Alexander warned that unless Senators be given free reign to attach amendments dealing with “other problems in our current system Members might like to address,” it might not see the light of day for five years.

Due to the Senate’s rules, even non-controversial proposals and appointees can take days of the Senate’s floor time — and members of the minority can block votes on legislation they support unless they are allowed to propose unrelated measures. Though 71 Senators ultimately voted for cloture last month on the nomination of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the Republican minority filibustered the nomination and tied up the Senate for days. The watered-down filibuster reforms agreed to in January did little to address these problems.

As such, even important and non-controversial legislation like Tester’s Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act often fall by the wayside, as happened in 2012.

Rather that try to get a floor vote on small proposals like this, often the best hope is to attach them to larger bills. A spokeswoman for Sen. Tester told ThinkProgress that he hopes to include the bill as part of the FY 2014 Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill.

The growing list of supporters of S. 375 includes Senators Max Baucus (D-MT), Mark Begich (D-AK), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Al Franken (D-VA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Johnny Isakson (D-GA), Angus King (I-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Carl Levin (D-MI), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mark Udall (D-CO), Tom Udall (D-NM), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

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