Reed, Whitehouse embrace transparency on campaign finance

whitehouse_reed_campaign_2012Rhode Island’s two U.S. senators are giving advocates of open government in Washington a reason to cheer.

U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse will both start filing their campaign-finance reports electronically, beginning with the latest one for the quarter that ended June 30, their spokesmen told this week.

The addition of Reed and Whitehouse means 17 senators are now filing their reports online – 13 Democrats, two independents who caucus with the Democrats, and two Republicans. Rhode Island is one of only three Senate delegations in which both senators file digitally, along with Montana, California and Vermont.

Senators, unlike lawmakers in the U.S. House, still have the legal right to submit their campaign-finance reports on paper. The Secretary of the Senate delivers the paper copies to the Federal Election Commission, whose employees must manually input the data into the FEC’s online database before they can be reviewed.

“This process costs taxpayers over $400,000 a year, but, more importantly, delays online access to information – sometimes until after the election has taken place – undermining one of the key purposes of disclosure,” The Sunlight Foundation wrote in an open letter to senators asking them to e-file voluntarily.

The Center for Public Integrity hailed Reed on Tuesday when he became the 16th senator to file online. “Senator Reed is a champion of campaign finance reform and transparency,” Reed spokesman Chip Unruh told Reed is also a co-sponsor of Montana Sen. Jon Tester’s bill requiring senators to file online.

As of Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse – a leading liberal voice on campaign-finance reform and sponsor of the DISCLOSE Act – hadn’t filed one of his own reports online since April 2006, the month his Democratic primary opponent Matt Brown dropped out of the Senate race Whitehouse went on to win.

In response to an inquiry from, however, Whitehouse spokesman Seth Larson announced that the junior senator had also decided to start filing his campaign-finance reports online as of the second quarter – and the digital filing was posted on the FEC’s website Wednesday.

“It was something the campaign was already planning to do,” Larson said. “I’m not sure what the reason for the delay was, but the most recent one went up online today and going forward all the future reports will be posted online.” Like Reed, Whitehouse is a co-sponsor of Tester’s bill to require e-filing by U.S. senators.

“It’s in keeping with his co-sponsorship of that bill and more generally with his position on transparency of campaign finance,” Larson said.

• Related: Jack Reed’s war chest hits $2.57M; still a 99% favorite to win (July 15)

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