Three conservative attorneys had harsh words for the Federal Election Commission, the government agency tasked with regulating elections, during a campaign finance-themed event today at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. Benjamin Barr, who specializes in First Amendment law, predicted that continued legal challenges would help “lessen the teeth” of the FEC, which, in an ideal world, he said, would be “shut down.” The agency’s regulatory authority “is very small,” he said, while lamenting that political activists have become “habituated” to “bowing in compliance with the federal government” by registering and reporting their financial activities to the six-member commission. The commission is now operating with five commissioners because of the resignation of Democrat Cynthia Bauerly in February. Such talk came during a week when the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics estimated that the 2012 election cost more than $6.3 million at the federal level.
While campaign finance reformers are also routinely critical of the FEC’s performance and lament the commission’s frequent deadlocked votes on key cases, they’ve typically argued that the federal government should be strengthened, not weakened.
But the regulatory environment today, Barr told the Center for Public Integrity, is that “six unelected bureaucrats in Washington” are creating “Rube Goldberg machines that weigh and balance eleven different factors that nobody gets.”
Fellow panelist Dan Backer, the principal attorney at DB Capitol Strategies, which offers campaign finance reporting and compliance services, called the current FEC commissioners “sweethearts,” but also offered some tough love.
“I don’t think anyone here is going to shed a tear if the FEC goes away,” he said.