What is Senator McConnell hiding?

An unidentified Republican senator has placed a secret hold on the Senate Campaign Disparity Act of 2007 sponsored by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., knows who the holding senator is but won’t reveal his or her identity.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the Senate’s secret hold tradition, but McConnell’s refusal to make public the name of the objecting senator is especially curious considering what this bill does. Simply put, the bill requires senators to file their quarterly campaign finance reports electronically, just as the House has been doing for a long time. Why would any senator be opposed to that?

The answer may be found in the system that will be preserved if the secret hold is not removed and the bill dies.

Under the current system, personal staff members prepare the quarterly reports detailing who contributed how much to each senator.

Those reports are sent electronically to the secretary of the Senate, who then prints out hard copies of each report and delivers them to the Federal Election Commission. The FEC staff then has to inputall of the data a second time and the reports are posted on the FEC Web site.

It often takes several months for all of the senators’ most recent quarterly report to appear on the FEC Web site. In an election year, this usually means a senator’s last quarterly report before Election Day is not available to voters until months after the votes have been counted.

The current process costs $250,000 each quarter. That’s a tiny amount of money in a $2.9 trillion federal budget, but there is a hugely important principle being violated in the process. Voters have the right to know who is contributing to their senators and representatives, if only because such information is essential to understanding how an incumbent has voted on key issues and why.

No politician will admit a connection between a vote for a measure favored by the ACME Widget Corp. or the Ceiling Wax Makers Union and a campaign contribution received before the vote. But voters should be enabled to judge the credibility of such an assertion for themselves before they cast their ballots, not months later when it no longer makes any difference.

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