For a political reformer, Ann Ravel had what might have been the job of a lifetime: chair of the Federal Election Commission. But as Ravel ends her year as chairwoman, the commission is much as it was upon her arrival: paralyzed by partisanship. It’s not for her lack of effort. Ravel tried logic, argument, persuasion, and, exasperated, she tried to embarrass fellow commissioners. Her most important accomplishment is that she told the story of the broken commission to anyone who would listen, not just the insiders who pay attention to such matters. On “The Daily Show,” she agreed with with the comedic interviewer’s assessment that the commission is about as functional as men’s nipples. Over the top, perhaps, but no other commission chair has appeared on such a show. It turns out that at least three of six of commissioners were beyond embarrassment.
“It was important to let people know that this agency established to enforce the law wasn’t doing its job … to let the public know what the FEC is intended to do and what is failing to do,” Ravel told a Sacramento Bee editorial board member.
Heading into the 2016 elections, certain facts are clear: Billions will be spent to influence the outcome of elections. No matter how diligent the press and voters are, no one will know the full magnitude of the spending, or the identities of all donors seeking to sway your vote. If evidence arises that donors or recipients have strayed, the Federal Election Commission won’t do much.
Congress took steps to keep the public in the dark by approving the Omnibus Appropriations Act earlier this month. The act bars the Internal Revenue Service from imposing further regulations on campaign operations that masquerade as nonprofit social welfare organizations.