Sen. Anonymous

GOP Unknown Halts Electronic Finance Filings

By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 19, 2007

The long-pending plan to usher the Senate into the modern age by requiring members to file their campaign finance forms electronically finally appeared poised for passage.

Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), the lead sponsor of a bill that would end the antiquated practice of requiring senators to file their forms on paper, stood on the senate floor Monday and reminded members of a process that borders on the absurd.

Instead of filing forms electronically, as candidates for president do, senators print their reports and deliver them to the clerk's office. The staff scans them into a computer so they can be electronically transmitted to the Federal Election Commission. The FEC then prints the forms again and hires workers to type the data into a database so it can finally be made public online.

But before Feingold's bill could move forward, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) rose and announced, "Mr. President, on behalf of a Republican senator, I object."

The objection represented another Senate tradition that is almost as quaint and baffling to outsiders as paper filings -- it is called an anonymous hold. The long-standing practice allows a single unnamed senator to stop any bill in its tracks.

Senators voted earlier this year to end anonymous holds as part of their ethics reform bill, but that measure still awaits action in the House. So when Alexander unfurled his objection, there was little anyone could do.

"He was simply following the same standard procedure practiced on the floor every day," said his press secretary, Scott Montrey.

Alexander has no idea who placed the hold, Montrey said. "The staff simply grabs whichever member happens to be there and that person raises the objection on behalf of their colleagues, and senatorial privilege, and 200 years of history."

Campaign finance reform advocate Steven Weissman said he could only laugh -- what a poetic way for senate Republicans to slam the brakes on a long-pending disclosure bill. "This is truly ironic," he said yesterday. "Secrecy is being used to reinforce secrecy."

A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last night that the bill will not be held indefinitely. "It is on the legislative calendar," Don Stewart said. "Senators are now reviewing the bill in anticipation of legislative action."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company