Ensign vows to keep e-filing bill in limbo

One Senate GOP leader, with the apparent support of fellow senior Republicans, said Thursday that his party would continue to insist on a vote on forcing groups that file ethics complaints to disclose their donors before the Senate approves electronic campaign-finance filing.

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National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) frustrated Democrats by stepping forward to object to the electronic filing plan after a series of anonymous objections. But Ensign maintained his denial of holding up the campaign finance bill, vowing he would support it if the GOP amendment on ethics complaints were allowed a vote.

Ensign refused to elaborate on which outside groups he believes are filing ethics complaints against senators for partisan purposes: “I’m just telling you, it’s becoming more and more of a problem,” he said. Ensign’s amendment would force groups petitioning the Senate Ethics Committee to disclose the identity of donors giving more than $5,000.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the Rules Committee chairwoman who for months has sought to pass the electronic-filing bill unanimously, said she did not understand why Ensign had spurned her offer for a hearing on his proposal. Pushing a vote on the donor-disclosure ban would be “enough to take down that [e-filing] bill,” she said, attributing Ensign’s opposition to his role as the Senate GOP’s campaign chief.

“I don’t think they win with this,” Feinstein said of the NRSC. If the bill requiring quick Internet publishing of campaign disclosures stays blocked, she added, the NRSC would not “have to reveal who [its] late-in-the-campaign contributors are.”

Ensign deflected charges from watchdog groups that he is aiming to sink the bill. Contending on the floor that Senate ethics complaints “can be on a beverage napkin or written in crayon,” he contended that the lack of easy-to-move vehicles in the upper chamber make it imperative to seek a vote on his plan immediately.

Ensign added that he consulted with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) before deciding on his strategy, deeming the push for the amendment “something we did together … we discussed it. I felt it was a good idea for me to do it.”