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Senate rules on campaign reports slow disclosures

The Arizona Republic has an article today on the Senate's rules requiring paper reports on campaign finance.

Campaign committees use computer spreadsheets to keep track of donations and expenditures. But because the Senate prohibits what otherwise could be filing reports with the click of a mouse, the campaigns submit paper to the Secretary of the Senate's Office.

In the 2001-02 election cycle, filings from nearly 600 candidates' committees totaled a little more than 400,000 pages, Federal Election Commission spokesman Bob Biersack said.

If piled in a single stack, the paperwork would reach a height of 133 feet.

As the paper pours in to the secretary's office, employees run each sheet through a scanner to create page-by-page computer images, but not a sortable database. Then they transmit the data overnight to the FEC.

Election commission personnel promptly print out the whole batch, creating a second 133-foot stack. They check the math, add some coding by hand and make a second set of copies to send out of the building.

That set is delivered to a private contractor in Virginia to retype the information, at 24 cents per entry, into still another computer format, Biersack said.

Finally, one to four weeks after each filing deadline, an electronic file is returned by the data-entry firm for posting on the FEC Web site. Even then, the entries are difficult to sort and contain no details on expenditures.