Feinstein bill blocked by secret hold 

It is difficult to remember a day in which the U.S. Senate covered itself in more hypocrisy than it did Wednesday. When Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., asked for a vote on their proposal to post Senate campaign finance reports on the Internet the same day they are submitted, an anonymous senator put a secret hold on it. No vote can be held as long as the secret hold remains in place.

So a bill mandating more transparency can be stopped by an anonymous senator using an obscure senate rule? Not only can it be, but earlier this year the Senate did away with secret holds, but the measure is lost in legislative limbo awaiting a Senate-House conference.

Feinstein’s measure deserves quick passage because it would bring the Senate into the 21st century on making available to the public each senator’s quarterly listing of campaign donors.

Under the current system, such reports are prepared electronically, but for reasons known only to the Senate just printed copies are made public. Worse yet, months can often elapse before a senator’s most recent quarterly report becomes available, often meaning voters have no idea who gave money in the months preceding an election. In vivid contrast, the House makes its contributors public electronically, as do presidential candidates.

A secret hold was used last year by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., to block temporarily the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. The act requires the federal government to create a Google-like searchable database of most federal spending by 2009.

Stevens and Byrd were quickly exposed by a coalition of bloggers and nonprofits from across the political spectrum, as well as The Examiner. The names of all 100 senators were posted at Porkbusters.org and readers were encouraged to call their senators and ask if they put the hold on Coburn-Obama. Soon after Stevens and Byrd were exposed, the Senate approved the bill and President Bush signed it into law.

The same coalition is springing into action now on the Feinstein-Feingold proposal. The Sunlight Foundation has posted the names of all 100 senators and is inviting citizens to call their senators and ask them if they put the secret hold on Feinstein-Feingold, then go to Sunlight’s Web site and report the answer, no matter what it is.

The Web site is at: http://www.sunlightfoundation.com/node/2428

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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