Long-standing dysfunction at the Federal Election Commission reached a new level of personal acrimony in recent weeks, fueled by a power struggle between Republican commissioners and the agency’s top lawyer, who abruptly resigned. The battle threatens to further obstruct the work of the beleaguered commission, which is charged with policing candidates’ and political groups’ compliance with disclosure rules and other requirements of the vast campaign finance system. The fight is centered on a push by the Republican commissioners to bar FEC staff members from sharing information with federal prosecutors unless the panel — currently dominated by GOP members — gives its approval. The commission’s lone Democrat and many campaign-finance experts say the move could politicize such decisions and hamper the ability of the FEC and the Justice Department to prosecute election violations.
The dispute comes in the wake of the most expensive election in U.S. history, which followed court rulings that freed corporations to engage directly in political campaigns and gave rise to super PACs financed by unlimited donations.
The panel has been deadlocked for three years over how to update its rules to cope with the new campaign funding environment.
Advocates of campaign-finance limits view the latest fight as part of a broader Republican attempt to weaken the election agency and the regulatory system it oversees.
“You have three commissioners who are aggressively trying to stop the enforcement of the law,” said Larry Noble, president of Americans for Campaign Reform, who served for 13 years as FEC general counsel. “Now it appears they are trying to give themselves the ability to stop the FEC from assisting another agency. I cannot see a good motive for this.”