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Undisclosed senator blocks disclosure

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KAI RYSSDAL: There’s something of a Washington whodunit going on. One unnamed senator is holding up a bill that would bring Senate campaign finance reports into the Internet age. The House does it. Presidential candiates do it. Pretty much everybody in the Senate is for it on the record. But at least one person is uneasy about it in private. Jeremy Hobson reports from Washington.

JEREMY HOBSON: The blogs are busy trying to figure out who it is. And no one is talking. Whoever it is is asking other senators to keep the bill from heading to a vote by citing an unnamed senator’s objection. Ellen Miller heads the government watchdog group The Sunlight Foundation.

ELLEN MILLER: What’s particularly, I think, gauling about this is that here we have a piece of legislation that is about openness and transparency in government blocked by someone whom we don’t know.

Why would that someone want to block it? Well, here’s what it would do. Right now, senators file their campaign finance reports on paper. Thousands of pieces of paper. They have to be copied multiple times and then fed into a computer by the Federal Elections Commission.

Michael Malbin directs the Campaign Finance Institute:

MICHAEL MALBIN: $250,000 and lots of time later we finally get to see the information and it’s often after the election when it does no good.

That means voters don’t know which big donors or corporate interests are bankrolling their senator. The new legislation would make Senate campaign finance reports available to the public immediately over the Internet — something that at least one senator doesn’t want to happen.

It’s certainly not the first time senators have used the secret hold tactic to block legislation or nominees — and probably not the last. Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute.NORMAN ORNSTEIN: You know, the dirty reality here is that senators do it all the time. And even those who hate a particular instance hate to give up the power to use it themselves.

In Washington, I’m Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

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