After 15 years working to improve transparency in our democracy, I’ve learned that politicians frequently put up barriers to changing the system that got them elected. But sustained effort from advocates for a stronger democracy can knock those barriers down -- like the push for U.S. Senate candidates to finally file their campaign finance reports online.
Contributions to U.S. Senate campaigns in the weeks before Election Day aren't posted publicly until after voters cast their ballots. This delay comes from an indefensible legal exception that lets Senate candidates file disclosure reports on paper, while House and presidential candidates must file electronically.
Senators keep track of contributions to their campaigns on computers (duh), but then print out their filings in mountains of paper. The government pays for a contractor to enter the information on paper into the Federal Election Commission’s electronic system. It’s a process that’s slow, costly, error-prone and prevents timely transparency.
But now, after a multi-year effort from more than 20 advocacy organizations, including MapLight, the Senate will finally join the modern world and file reports online.
The Federal Election Commission estimated that having Senate candidates file electronically will save taxpayers nearly $900,000 per year. Most importantly, it will also help journalists and advocates working in the public interest to more quickly and accurately track campaign money.
The shift to electronic filing in the Senate sounds like common sense, but that doesn’t mean passing the new law was easy. The first such proposal was introduced in 2003, and year after year it failed to gain enough support to become law. Now, that has finally changed thanks to sustained effort from democracy advocates and the champions of the new law, Montana Senators Jon Tester (D) and Steve Daines (R). More timely information on who is funding candidates for Senate will soon be available to all of us, and that’s a welcome advancement to improve democracy.
- Daniel G. Newman
MapLight President and Co-Founder