A convenient obstruction

May 02, 2007

Requiring senators to file their campaign finance statements electronically rather than on paper seems like such an obvious update that no one could object.

And yet someone has. Maybe lots of someones.

At least twice last week, Republican senators blocked action on legislation that would conform Senate campaign filings with the electronic measures used by House candidates and presidential hopefuls.

In each case, the senator said he was acting for an unnamed GOP colleague. But the absence of outrage from anyone but sponsors of the change suggests broader complicity.

It appears that senators from neither party are eager to make their periodic reports of campaign donations quickly and easily accessible to anyone with a computer and search engine.

So, while Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has been properly chastised for shielding the phantom objector, every senator should be held responsible for allowing this charade to continue. With 60 votes, the measure could quickly bypass this procedural hurdle and be enacted into law.

Electronic filing for Senate candidates is hardly a radical proposal. In the first flush of ethics reform talk after Democrats took over Congress this year, it seemed among the easiest of changes to pass.

It would abandon a system under which Senate candidates file paper reports with a Senate clerk, whose staff scans them into a computer to be electronically transmitted to the Federal Elections Commission, which prints the forms again so aides can enter the information into a database accessible to the public.

No additional information would be made available under the new legislation. It would simply be available faster and cheaper. Democrats speculate that Republicans are objecting to the electronic campaign finance filing bill simply to flex what remains of their power. If so, it's hardly an appealing tactic.

Republicans and Democrats should unite wherever they can - particularly on such a mutually beneficial task as tightening ethics rules. This long-overdue move into the late 20th century is a no-brainer.

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