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Standoff blocks action on campaign reforms

WASHINGTON — After being accused by another senator of secretly blocking campaign reform legislation, Sen. John Ensign on Tuesday said he does not remember whether he did or not.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., suggested during debate Monday night that the Nevada Republican was the senator who twice since April placed an anonymous hold on a bill that would require incumbents and Senate candidates to file campaign finance reports electronically.

The bill is broadly supported but has been prevented from advancing because of a hold by an unknown senator.

Senate candidates are the only ones still filing reports on paper.

“We know what is going on here,” Feingold said after Ensign objected when he and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., again tried to initiate debate on the electronic disclosure bill.

Ensign insisted he should be allowed to add an amendment, but Democrats said Ensign’s proposal was not germane.

As a result of the standoff, neither the electronic disclosure bill nor Ensign’s amendment passed.

Feingold said Ensign’s action Monday indicated he was the senator who had been holding up the bill all along.

“Now it appears that the senator from Nevada has actually identified himself as the objector of the bill,” Feingold said, noting that a new ethics law no longer allows anonymous holds.

When asked by reporters whether it was true that he placed holds on the electronic disclosure bill, Ensign said, “I don’t remember. To be honest with you. I don’t remember.”

The amendment by Ensign, who is chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, would have forced groups filing complaints with the Senate Ethics Committee to disclose their contributors.

Ensign said partisan groups are using ethics complaints as political weapons against senators.

Examples include Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal group, and Judicial Watch, a conservative group, according to aides.

“We’re trying to clean up the institution to make things transparent. Whether it’s earmarks, we need more transparency,” Ensign said.

Ensign said he supports electronic campaign finance filing, but has been negotiating with Feinstein to add his amendment to the bill.

“Both sides should want this,” Ensign said. “It’s just like the electronic filing isn’t controversial. Well, (my amendment) shouldn’t be controversial, either.”

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