Congress passes bill to require Senate campaign filings to be made electronically

Congress passes bill to require Senate campaign filings to be made electronically
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Congress passed a bill Thursday that would require senators to file campaign finance reports electronically through the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

The language was included in a broader appropriations bill sent to the White House for President TrumpDonald John TrumpActivists highlight Trump ties to foreign autocrats in hotel light display Jose Canseco pitches Trump for chief of staff: ‘Worried about you looking more like a Twinkie everyday’ Dershowitz: Mueller's report will contain 'sins' but no 'impeachable offense' MORE's signature.

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If the bill is signed, the Senate would finally be subject to the same electronic filing (e-filing) requirements that the House has had since 1995.

The FEC has been pushing for Senate e-filing partly because of potential savings. The current paper-based filing system means that the FEC can spend up to 10 days on a lengthy process of integrating filings into their public database. According to their estimates, at least $898,000 could be saved per year by switching.

The provision was inserted into the bill by Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesOvernight Health Care: Senators urge vote on delaying health insurance tax | Joe Kennedy III 'hopeful' he can back 'Medicare for all' bill | Latest Ebola outbreak becomes world's 2nd-worst Overnight Defense: Senate rebukes Trump with Yemen vote | Mattis, Pompeo briefing fails to quell Senate concerns with Saudis | Graham demands CIA briefing on Khashoggi | Pentagon identifies three troops killed in Afghanistan Senate GOP presses Trump to move on new NAFTA deal before Dems take over House MORE (R-Mont.), who said it would provide more accountability.

“We got a big win with the e-file provision. This is just good government,” Daines said. “The e-file provision increases transparency and allows the American people to have a better understanding and greater access to what’s going on with campaign finances in U.S. Senate races.”

Aside from financial benefits, groups stress that e-filings can reduce errors in reports.

In one investigation, the Center for Public Integrity found errors in more than 5,900 candidate disclosures, equating to $70 million in campaign funds. They attribute these inconsistencies to the convoluted process of transferring paper filings to the electronic world, something that involves two government agencies and three private companies, some of which operate overseas. 

The same analysis compared error frequency in paper and digital filings and found that 20 percent of digitized paper filings had at least one error, while only 2 percent of e-filings had any.

There is also hope that e-filing will improve transparency by making sure voters have accurate and timely access to details on how candidates spend their money.

The transition to e-filing is unlikely to cause any issues for senators. According to Brookings, the vast majority of senators already record their spending digitally, but then have to print it out to be digitized again when filing.

This report was updated on Sept. 18 at 9:25 a.m.