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Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) came out strongly today in favor legislation to require senators to file campaign finance reports electronically, just as House members and presidential candidates must now do.
Only the Senate still files its often lengthy reports of donors and expenditures on paper, a costly and convoluted process permitted by an exception to a 1999 law requiring all others to file electronically.
"The legislation we are going to discuss today, in my opinion, is a no-brainer. It is noncontroversial, will save taxpayers about half a million dollars a year and has wide bipartisan support," Schumer said at a Rules Committee hearing he chaired on the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act, sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).
And to make the point, last week he voluntarily filed his campaign finance report electronically, something he hasn't done since 2004.
Schumer wasn't always so enthusiastic. He always signed on as a co-sponsor of past bills to require senate electronic filing that went nowhere, but until now Schumer hasn't made the bill a top priority since becoming Rules Committee chairman in 2010.
Two years ago, an aide told SpinCycle that Schumer had no problem with the fact that senators filed their campaign finance reports on paper, saying it was little different from filing electronically.
"Under both methods, the information is posted online quickly, and is fully searchable," the aide said when asked whether Schumer use the Rules Committee to push for electronic filing.
But today Schumer said, "I strongly believe that timely disclosure of campaign finance reports is crucial to safeguard the integrity of our elections, and this bill helps to do that."
Schumer's change of heart on the issue comes at a time when his protege, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), has made "transparency" -- including her own electronic filing of campaign finance reports -- part of her re-election platform this year.
Under the current system, Schumer said, senators file paper report to the Secretary of the Senate, who scans it and emails it to the Federal Election Commission, which prints it out and sends it to a private contractor, which manually types the data into electronic format and sends back to the FEC to post online.
Making senators file electronically would save the Senate $100,000 a year, Schumer said. He added that the FEC said it would save $430,000 a year by eliminating the outside contractor and freeing up two of their own staffers.