Behind closed doors they snipe at each other. In public they question each other’s motives. And in front of Congress, they hang each other out to dry.
That’s life on the Federal Election Commission, a panel that is supposed to answer the most important questions in campaign finance law, but whose commissioners can’t always manage civility, never mind reach agreements on the biggest fundraising and spending questions it’s tasked to answer.
Matters are expected to get worse for the commission next year, thanks to numerous federal court decisions that will likely prompt a flood of questions the panel must consider. At the helm, there will be a new chairman, who will be elected on Thursday — likely Republican Caroline Hunter, the current vice chairman.
“These public spats we have are very, very healthy. It’s a healthy ugly,” said Don McGahn, a Republican lawyer by trade who by night tears up music venues as the lead guitarist in ’80s-style rock bands. “This is a public body, and you’re supposed to speak up and duke it out over what you believe is right. There should be no desire to find superficial compromise. When you do that, nobody wins, and you give people a false sense of security because such a decision can result in litigation.”
But these days, it’s rare that the fighting ends with a usable outcome for campaigns trying to operate within the scope of the law, which has been upended since last year by the Supreme Court’s decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, among others. The three Republicans and three Democrats have repeatedly deadlocked this year.