Last week, the vast majority of the United States senators, in a bipartisan display of arrogance, proved once more how little they think of the people who elect them.
Most senators, including those who face re-election in 2014, failed to file their public campaign finance reports online with the Federal Election Commission. Again.
Candidates for House seats, for the presidency, and for most state legislatures long ago began filing their campaign reports electronically, posting them on the Internet for any interested voter to see.
But not the U.S. Senate.
They get away with ignoring the Internet because they make their own rules. Acting like little emperors, they have collectively decided that the identities of their donors and how they spend their campaign money are nobody’s business.
The Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan investigative reporting operation based in Washington, D.C., is the latest news organization to criticize the Senate for failing to file reports online, thus making them immediately available for anyone to see. The center reported last week that as many as 80 senators fail to file online. It also noted that the Senate financial services bill included an e-filing requirement. But when the bill was folded into the larger budget bill approved in January, the e-filing provision had disappeared.
There’s nothing to prevent senators from voluntarily filing their reports. Some do.
California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer routinely file their reports online. In the past, Feinstein promised to force the issue. But she failed to persuade her colleagues that they ought to enter the Internet age. It’s simply not a high enough priority.
Most senators take the carrier pigeon route, printing out reports and mailing them to the Senate secretary. The secretary faxes the reports to the Federal Election Commission, which copies and delivers them to a private vendor. There, clerks key-punch in some of the information and return the reports to the Federal Election Commission, which posts them online, days or weeks after they’ve been filed. The process costs hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
It’s not the senators’ money, so they don’t care. Voters should.
We have urged the Senate to enter the Internet age before. It has been ignored, just as this one will be.
So we’ll continue to point it out and hope that anyone who follows in the shoes of the Californians will continue to file the reports electronically. As, we hope, will others who aren’t yet enlightened.