A dispute over whether the FEC is tilting its investigations against conservatives or Republicans is mostly a waste of energy. Commissioner Goodman got this started at a Commission hearing and has been rebuked by Commissioner Ravel. The Republicans profess to be outraged; the Democrats announce that this outrage has rendered them speechless. Once again there is here, in the midst of this clamor, an important question– the uses and misuses of the agency’s enforcement process—that is being misdirected into another round of finger-pointing about bad faith and improper motive.
Each side knows well that many complaints are filed for political advantage. The objective is sometimes to get press attention, sometimes to slow or complicate an adversary’s spending, and sometimes a little of both. This does not mean that the complaints invariably lack substance. More often, they have some substance, for if not, the charges are harder to sell to the press, and there is also the risk of a (more or less) speedy FEC dismissal. It is also true that the substance may consist of a reasonable but untested theory. The complainant wishes the FEC to investigate a particular activity and intends to set the allegation up for court review if the agency fails to act.
Does this state of affairs work to one party’s detriment, resulting in more complaints against it? How either party fares in this private attorney generals scheme depends on whether it is engaged in activities that its adversary deems either competitively damaging or politically profitable to challenge. In this world of (c) organizations, Super PACs and other innovations, it is unclear whether this will cause more of a problem for Republicans than Democrats. This will be difficult to determine before the end of the current election cycle and for some time afterward.