Tester, Daines simplify Senate’s campaign finance reporting laws; Rosendale states support

Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines

More than 115 candidates running in this month’s primaries hadn’t filed their financial disclosures a day before the election, including Montana Republican Matt Rosendale, denying voters a chance to review any debts or conflicts of interest.

Now, it may be easier for candidates running for a seat in the Senate to file their reports early, and for the public to review their finances.

On Thursday, in a push for greater transparency, Montana Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines attached legislation to an appropriations bill that would, if passed, require Senate candidates to file their campaign finance reports electronically rather by hand.

Tester, who first authored the bill in 2012 and did the same for the current measure, said the state’s campaign finance system is broken and needs fixing.

“This bipartisan bill will shed more light on the special interests who are trying to buy our democracy,” Tester said. “Our elections aren’t for sale and we are one step closer to increasing transparency, accountability, and restoring rights to the people.”

Daines, who chairs the U.S. Senate Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee, supported the bill as part of the 2019 Fiscal Year Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, which appropriates funds for the federal candidate filing system.

Daines said the E-file provision will increase public transparency and access to U.S. Senate campaign filings.

“The Senate filing system has lagged behind and it’s time to do what is right for the democratic system and American taxpayers by bringing it into the 21st century,” Daines said. “This bipartisan proposal will save taxpayers nearly $900,000 a year and make it easier for voters to access campaign finance information on Senate congressional candidates.”

A review of financial disclosure records by OpenSecrets.org found that 116 of the 304 candidates in this month’s primary had either ignored the May 15 filing deadline or sought extensions that effectively concealed the reports until after the primaries.

Some filed paperwork so late the disclosures were unpublished on the eve of the election, the organization found. Among the abusers, it identified several candidates with strong fundraising, including two California Democrats and Montana Republican Rosendale.

Rosendale’s campaign on Thursday said he met the grace period permitted in the Senate Ethics Manual.

On Thursday, Rosendale, who is challenging Tester for his seat, also said he supported the delegation’s measure to improve transparency among candidate filings.

“This bill is a step in the right direction to modernize our campaign finance laws,” Rosendale said. “It will increase transparency, accountability, and save taxpayer dollars.”