Tag Archives: FEC

Lack of Timely Congressional Public Disclosure is an Insult to the Voters

The latest campaign contribution and expenditure figures for Congressional races reported by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) are dated from the end of July 2010 for a report only through June 30, 2010. In an age of electronic and computer nimbleness when news can circulate the globe in a matter of seconds, campaign finance disclosure by candidates running for the US Senate and the House seem to be in the pre-telegraph era.

This antiquated campaign disclosure system hurts the democratic process by denying the public access to campaign spending and contribution information.  It is an insult to the public and benefits special interests trying to obscure and cloud the impact money is having in Congressional races. The public has a right to know who is contributing to candidates and how much is being spent. The current system is a failure for timely disclosure.

And this is not even discussing the most recent insult – the unfettered and unrestricted flow of special interest and corporate dollars flowing into committees and organizations, including those that are filed with the IRS as 501-c-4 organizations that are not required to disclose their donors at all.  This is all the result of the conservative faction put on the US Supreme Court which in their 5 to 4 decision of Citizens United vs the Federal Elections Commission ruled that money and free speech are one and the same.

Current reporting to the FEC by US Senate and House candidates is on a quarterly basis.  Reports are due April 15, July 15, Oct 15, and Jan 31.  There is an additional Pre-Primary and Pre-General Election report. The Pre-General Election report covers Oct 1 -13 and is due Oct 21.

Meanwhile amazingly, Presidential campaigns are required to report monthly as are Party organizations and PAC’s.  Monthly reports are due on the 20th of the following month.

If you haven’t yet figured it out, its Congress who set the reporting requirements for Congress to only report quarterly.  And a further delay is that while the House and Presidential campaigns file directly electronically with the FEC,  the Senate adds additional delay in reporting by first requiring that a PAPER copy be filed with the US Senate which then forwards that to the FEC. Yes the word PAPER is correct. Talk about being behind the times.

Meanwhile here in Washington State  reports for candidates are filed with our Public Disclosure Commission monthly, electronically and the deadline is the 10th of the following month.  This includes races for statewide office like Governor which encompasses obviously the same geographical area as a US Senate race.

Two separate bills are before Congress to increase public disclosure that deserve public support. The first is a perennial bill to require Senate candidates to file electronic copies of their reports. This is Russ Feingold’s bill,  the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act. He notes it would save taxpayers $250,000.  As Feingold states,

Under the current paper filing system, the FEC’s detailed coding, which allows for more sophisticated searches and analysis, is completed over a week later for Senate reports than for House reports. This means that the final disclosure reports covering contributions made during the first two weeks of October are often not subject to detailed scrutiny before the election. Detailed campaign expenditure information is never available electronically because the FEC does not enter that information into its databases.

Help urge the US Senate to join the electronic computer era. Send an e-mail to your Senators urging they join the digital revolution in reporting campaign contributions. Click on the link to email Washington State’s Senators:

Senator Maria Cantwell
Senator Patty Murray
To e-mail Senators in other states go to the US Senate website.

The other legislation that Republicans have blocked to date is the DISCLOSE Bill.  As noted in a citizen co-sponsor website at http://www.discloseact.com/

The DISCLOSE Act legislation will address seven major points:

1. Enhance Disclaimers

Make CEOs and other leaders take responsibility for their ads.

2. Enhance Disclosures

It is time to follow the money.

3. Prevent Foreign Influence

Foreign countries and entities should not be determining the outcome of our elections.

4. Shareholder/Member Disclosure

We should allow shareholders and members to know where money goes.

5. Prevent Government Contractors from Spending

Taxpayer money should not be spent on political ads.

6. Provide the Lowest Unit Rate for Candidates and Parties

Special interests should not drown out the voices of the people.

7. Tighten Coordination Rules

Corporations should not be able to “sponsor” a candidate

Please also urge your Senatore to pass this bill. The House has already done so.

For previous discussion of these issues see also:

US Senators Still Trying to Figure out Computers and Internet

Republicans in US Senate Stop Campaign Disclosure Bill

Federal Election Commission Clarifies Rules on Internet Blogging and Federal Candidates

On May 12, 2006 the Federal Election Commission’s amended rules on the use of the internet in Federal election campaigns went into effect. Bloggers in Washington State have been very active blogging on candidates for US Senate and Congress, like Darcy Burner and Peter Goldmark running for Congress and Maria Cantwell running for re-election to the US Senate..

The new rules are in response to a recent US District Court decision that said the Commission could not give a wholesale exemption from reporting for all Internet activity.

The FEC, in adopting new rules, clarified a number of issues involved but basically exempted all blogging and Internet communication from campaign reporting except for paid advertisements placed on another person’s website.

Surprisingly this exemption for bloggers even included the rabid, rapidly growing in number, rapacious, not so vacuous and insipid as to make you cry bloggers here in Washington state and the Northwest. That doesn’t mean they aren’t busy over at the NSA trying to decipher what it is we’re saying.

The 26 pages of clarification and rules were published April 12, 2006 in the Federal Registry. They make for interesting reading for all bloggers and anyone interested in the free and unregulated use of the Internet under the First Amendment.

“Through this rulemaking, the Commission recognizes the Internet as a unique and evolving mode of mass communication and political speech that is distinct from other media in a manner that warrants a restrained regulatory approach. The Internet’s accessibility, low cost, and interactive features make it a popular choice for sending and receiving information.

Unlike other forms of mass communication, the Internet has minimal barriers to entry, including its low cost and widespread accessibility. Whereas the general public can communicate through television or radio broadcasts and most other forms of mass communication only by payingsubstantial advertising fees, the vast majority of the general public who choose to communicate through the Internet can afford to do so.

When paid advertising on another person’s website does occur on the Internet, the expense of that advertising sets it apart from other uses of the Internet, although even the cost of advertising on another entity’s website will often be below the cost of advertising in some other media.

These final rules therefore implement the regulatory requirements mandated by the Shays District decision by focusing exclusively on Internet advertising that is placed for a fee on another person’s website. In addition, these rules add new exceptions to the definitions of “contribution” and “expenditure” to protect individual and media activity on the Internet. As a whole, these final rules make plain that the vast majority of Internet communications are, and will remain, free from campaign finance regulation. To the greatest extent permitted by Congress and the Shays District decision, the Commission is clarifying and affirming that Internet activities by individuals and groups of individuals face almost no regulatory burdens under the Federal Election Campaign Act. The need to safeguard Constitutionally protected political speech allows no other approach

The FEC noted in its decision that the number of people who relied on the internet for campaign information increased from 30 million in 2000 to 63 million in 2004. They cited reports that some 11 milion people in 2004 looked to blogs as their main source of information and some 18% of American citizens in 2004 viewed the internet in general as their main information source in deciding on who to vote for as President.

Regarding blogging specifically, the Commission noted that:

In light of the evolving nature of Internet communications, the Commission is not explicitly excluding from the definition of ‘‘public communication’’ any particular software or format used in Internet communications. The final rules already exclude ordinary blogging activity from the definition of ‘‘public communication’’ because blog messages are not placed for a fee on another person’s Web site. Thus, an explicit exclusion focused on ‘‘blogging’’ is not only unnecessary but also potentially confusing to the extent that it implies that other forms of Internet communication, such as ‘‘podcasting’’ or e-mailing, might be regulated absent an explicit exclusion for each different form of Internet communication.

The commission also excludes e-mail as a form of political advertising subject to regulation and disclosure. It bases its decision on the fact that e-mail is basically a free activity with no cost involved.

Posting a video is also excluded from regulation and disclosure unless it is placed on another website for a fee.