March 28, 2007

And Five Years Later ...

Despite its insistence on curtailing political speech five years ago yesterday by passing the McCain-Feingold bill to remove corruption from politics, the Senate has never forced itself to adopt more effective measures to expose venality by its own members. While the House adopted electronic filing measures to disclose campaign contributions on an ongoing basis, the Senate has preferred the slow and impenetrable process of quarterly written statements -- which curious investigators see far too late to expose any shenanigans. Thad Cochran and Russ Feingold want to change that, and the Washington Post agrees that the effort comes late in the game:

TODAY AT 10 a.m., the U.S. Senate could take its first step into the 21st century when the Rules and Administration Committee meets to vote on a measure that would require candidates for the Senate to file their campaign finance reports electronically. That's great news for a voting public that ought to be able to see immediately who's giving to whom and how the money is being spent. Of course, this issue being at the crossroads of politics and money, the prospects of something so simple being passed today are anything but simple.

All that sponsors Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) wanted to do was bring to the Senate the common-sense advance that for years has been standard operating procedure for candidates for the House of Representatives and the White House and for political parties, "527" groups and PACs. Electronic filing for Senate candidates would eliminate the so-last-century practice of filing papers with the Senate Office of Public Records, which then scans and sends them to the Federal Election Commission, which then sends them out to a vendor, which keys the information into an electronic database and sends it back to the FEC in its new form.

Sounds great, huh? The Senate, five years after passing the most cynical incumbent-protection legislation ever, will finally get around to allowing timely exposure of who contributes to the incumbent campaigns. Except that they may not; as the Post notes, the vote requires a quorum of the Rules and Administration Committee, which has 19 members. If they don't get 10 of the members to show up for the vote, the proposal will wither on the vine.

Also, the committee has to deal with an amendment by Bob Bennett (R-UT) that will also prove controversial. Bennett wants to remove the limitations on party spending in coordination with candidates. That would put a hole in the BCRA wall against the use of soft money, a Byzantine structure that still enjoys some support as a bulwark against corruption -- for reasons no one can explain rationally. Bennett may have a good idea, but it doesn't really help to attach it to this legislation. We need this bill to pass on its own and make its way to a floor vote. It's five years overdue already.

If you want to make sure that the committee has its quorum, be sure to make wake-up calls to these R&A panel members. Note, please, the number of party leaders who sit on this committee:

Dianne Feinstein
Bob Bennett
Robert Byrd
Daniel Inouye
Ted Stevens
Mitch McConnell
Christopher Dodd
Thad Cochran
Chuck Schumer
Trent Lott
Dick Durbin
Kay Bailey Hutchinson
Ben Nelson
Saxby Chambliss
Harry Reid
Chuck Hagel
Patty Murray
Lamar Alexander
Mark Pryor

You can reach the Senate switchboard at 202-224-3121, and ask for the Senator whom you wish to contact.


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Comments (2)

Posted by John Rauh [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 28, 2007 1:39 PM

It's hard to celebrate a campaign finance solution that doesn't seriously address public funding. Now if the Senate bill, S.936, passes that would be something to celebrate.

Posted by Neo [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 28, 2007 8:54 PM

SEN. Dianne Feinstein has resigned from the Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee. As previously and extensively reviewed in these pages, Feinstein was chairperson and ranking member of MILCON for six years, during which time she had a conflict of interest due to her husband Richard C. Blum's ownership of two major defense contractors, who were awarded billions of dollars for military construction projects approved by Feinstein.

Holy Haliburton.