Senate Campaign Finance Reports Trickle to FEC

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By Kenneth P. Doyle

Oct. 26 — Senate candidates are collecting millions of dollars in campaign contributions in the final days of the 2016 campaign, but finding out where this money is coming from is nearly impossible due to an antiquated disclosure system.

The system, which requires voluminous paper reports to be filed by mail with Senate officials and then transferred to the Federal Election Commission, has delayed reporting even of summary data on the finances of some candidates in key Senate races.

For example, summaries of reports due Oct. 15 from Senate Democratic candidates Katie McGinty of Pennsylvania and Evan Bayh of Indiana were not available on the FEC website until Oct. 26. The summaries showed McGinty raised $4.7 million and spent $5.2 million in the three-month period ending Sept. 30, while Bayh raised $2.2 million and spent $6.9 million in that period.

FEC officials told Bloomberg BNA on Oct. 26 that the agency still has not received third-quarter reports from 37 Senate candidates who filed second-quarter reports in July.

Late Senate Data Unavailable From FEC

While summaries of most of the Senate reports filed by the Oct. 15 deadline will be available from the FEC before the Nov. 8 election, it’s clear much of the detailed information in these reports won’t be available. This is even more true for final pre-general election disclosure reports due Oct. 27, which cover the period from Oct. 1 to Oct. 19.

These final reports originally were intended to provide information about late infusions of campaign funds and spending decisions. However, getting information about individual contributions or expenditures in the final months of Senate campaigns will be impossible without going through their filings page by page, FEC officials confirmed.

Historically, the process of entering disclosure data from Senate paper reports into a searchable electronic database has taken about 30 days, officials said, meaning the data wasn’t readily available until well after Election Day.

Previously, the FEC contracted with an outside firm to manually enter contribution and expenditure data from the paper reports into the searchable database available on the FEC website. The FEC recently hired a new contractor using enhanced data entry processes in an effort to speed up disclosure for Senate reports. However, officials said they don’t know yet how well the new system is working and how soon Senate report data will be available in a readily usable form.

Senators Resist Electronic Filing

The FEC and many others have urged Congress for years to change the law to require these reports to be filed electronically. Opponents have blocked the change from even being debated on the Senate floor, however.

Some Senate candidates now file unofficial electronic reports with the FEC. These reports are made available on a special section of the FEC website, but data from these filings are not included in the agency’s official database.

Meanwhile, House candidates, presidential candidates, political party committees and political action committees routinely file electronically with the FEC under disclosure laws passed more than a decade ago. These laws deliberately exempted Senate campaigns from electronic filing.

The issue was last raised on the Senate floor in 2007, when debate on a bill to require electronic filing of campaign finance reports was blocked by then-Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.). Ensign said he objected because he wanted to tack on an amendment to the electronic filing measure that would require watchdog groups filing complaints with the Senate Ethics Committee to reveal their donors.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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