One senator could block popular electronic disclosure bill

A major transparency bill pending in the Senate is gaining support but may still be blocked by parliamentary holds or "poison pill" amendments as it has been in past years, according to open government watchdog groups.

The Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act, sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., would require that Senate candidate file their campaign finance reports electronically. The legislation is backed by nearly every good government organization and would save the federal government $400,000 a year, according to testimony at a Senate Rules Committee hearing on April 25.

But while the bill has wide support and appears to be uncontroversial, its fate could depend on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky), according to the Sunlight Foundation transparency group. McConnell has added poison pill amendments and parliamentary holds to successfully kill several similar e-filing bills in  previous years, Lisa Rosenberg, government affairs consultant for Sunlight, wrote in a blog posting on April 25.

So-called poison pill amendments are unpopular provisions added to a legislative proposal in order to effectively ensure its demise.

“Unfortunately, the deciding factor will be Mitch McConnell,” Rosenberg wrote. “For reasons he has never adequately explained, he has been behind the secret holds and poison pill amendments that have blocked this bill for years. In pure Washington-speak, he claims to support the bill without denying that he has blocked it.”

Rosenberg offered written evidence in her blog entry that she contended showed McConnell’s involvement in killing previous bills. McConnell’s staff did not respond to a request for comment.

Other transparency advocates have expressed puzzlement as to why the legislation has not been approved in previous years despite its obvious popularity.

Bob Biersack, senior fellow with the OpenSecrets.org transparency group, voice that frustration in a recent blog entry titled “Senate Electronic Filing—If everybody loves it, why hasn’t it happened?”

“This same consensus has been voiced in sessions like this on several occasions over the years (there are 24 cosponsors of the bill, including several Republicans) but somehow, whenever this or similar legislation has gotten close to a floor vote, something happens to stop it,” Biersack wrote on the group’s blog on April 25. “Sometimes the obstacle is an amendment without the same widespread support, or sometimes it's a mysterious ‘hold.’”

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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