Editorials: Open Mic Disaster: The FEC held a hearing that revealed almost everything that’s wrong with American democracy. | Alec McGillis/Slate
Woe, to be the Federal Election Commission in the age of the Koch brothers. The agency charged with safeguarding the integrity of American democracy has, in recent years, been hit again and again by other branches of the federal government further flooding the political system with money from a small coterie of ultrawealthy donors. There was the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling in 2010, which made it possible for corporations, unions, and nonprofit groups to spend directly on elections. There was the McCutcheon v. FEC ruling last year, which, while keeping in place caps on how much an individual could give directly to a candidate or political committee, eliminated the aggregate limits on how much he could give combined. And just two months ago, Congress slipped into the big must-pass spending bill a further expansion of the sums a wealthy donor could give to party committees. The FEC hasn’t exactly helped matters, either. In the final years of George W. Bush’s administration, in 2007, it issued a rule that greatly weakened the requirements for nonprofit groups airing political “issue ads” to disclose their donors. More recently, the agency, despite the best efforts of Chairwoman Ann Ravel, a Democrat, has been conspicuously weak in enforcing its remaining rules on donor disclosure, laundered campaign contributions, and improper coordination between outside groups and candidates—the result of a worse-than-ever partisan deadlock between its three Democratic appointees and its three Republican ones, who have repeatedly resisted serious enforcement actions. All in all, the agency is looking about as effective at holding the line as a middle-school hall monitor at a Roman bacchanal.