Congress Members Are Wasting Hundreds of Thousands by Filing Paper Election Donation Records, Says Elections Commissioner

The Senate Judiciary Committee meets for markup on an immigration bill on May 20, 2013, in Washington, D.C. A new report has criticized wasteful spending on the filing of paper election donation records. Getty Images

U.S. senators continue to waste hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars each year by refusing to switch to electronically filing their campaign contributions, says a frustrated longtime Federal Election Commission official.

"Almost $900,000 in unnecessary costs to the taxpayers per year!" tweeted Ellen Weintraub, a commissioner at the ‏Federal Election Commission (FEC) who has twice chaired the government body since joining in 2002.

Weintraub was responding to senior political reporter Dave Levinthal at the Center for Public Integrity, an investigative journalism nonprofit, who pointed out that the FEC launched a blistering attack on senators in its 2018 congressional budget report last year.

The FEC condemned the Senate's repeated refusal for more than a decade to electronically file campaign finance reports and continuance to use paper instead.

"Can you blame us?" a frustrated Weintraub said.

The FEC's frustration stems from the fact that each of Congress's 100 senators submit thousands of pages of paper financial disclosure reports in periodic filings throughout the year to the Secretary of the Senate.

Almost $900,000 in unnecessary costs to the taxpayers per year! Can you blame us?

— Ellen L 😷 Weintraub (@EllenLWeintraub) February 13, 2018

"After these reports are received by the Secretary of the Senate, that office must scan the reports and then deliver them electronically to the FEC," the report points out. The campaign donation documents then take an additional 48 hours to be integrated into the FEC database and put up on the commission's website for the public to see who is funding their senator.

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"At least $876,000 per year in costs [is] directly attributable to the current paper filing system at the FEC," the report points out. "Since 2000, the Commission has unanimously recommended to Congress a legislative change to apply mandatory electronic filing rules to Senate reports."

Switching over to electronic records to reduce the time and money being put into managing the growing number of pages has been done before. The 435 members of the House, political action committees and presidential candidates have been using electronic filing for about 18 years, starting in 2000.

For more than 10 years, senators have repeatedly let legislation to update their archaic paper donation records languish. A bipartisan group of 52 senators co-sponsored the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act when it was again introduced last February. Yet the bill has never come to vote since it was first introduced in 2003.

"It's hard to say this is a bad bill," said Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) after introducing the bill last year. "It saves money and adds disclosure, so what could be bad about that?"

But there has hardly been a push to pass it ahead of the 2018 midterm elections this fall.

"Every senator is on Twitter and Facebook, and a few even share content on Instagram," wrote the nonpartisan political reform nonprofit Issue One on the matter. "They're clearly equipped, and willing, to use the internet in support of their official duties as elected officials."

The group continued: "The Senate's current use of paper filings delays disclosure of their donors until months after the fact."

It added: "Voters often don't know who's behind a last-minute campaign contribution until long after Election Day."