The agency instructed to treat corporations as people – at least when it comes to their right to spend money on political speech – isn’t sure if its own commissioners are. During a fraught exchange at Thursday’s Federal Election Commission monthly meeting, a Republican commissioner said none of the six panel members should be counted as a “person” when it comes to petitioning their own agency. This led to a strange back and forth between Matthew Petersen, a Republican, and Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, over her personhood. “First of all, let me say I cannot believe that you are actually going to take the position that I am not a person…a corporation is a person, but I’m not a person?” Weintraub fired back. “That’s how bad it has gotten. My colleagues will not admit that I am a person. That’s really striking.”
Every once in a while, David Brooks writes a column in The New York Times that makes one just cringe. That was the case with his “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” treatment last week of the impact of Citizens United on our politics. By defining the impact narrowly—does either party gain from the Supreme Court ruling and the new Wild West of campaign financing?—and by cherry-picking the research on campaign finance, Brooks comes up with a benign conclusion: Citizens United will actually reduce the influence of money in elections, and, I quote, “The upshot is that we should all relax about campaign spending.” Without mentioning his good friend’s name, E.J. Dionne destroyed that case in his own Washington Post column. But a broader critique is necessary. First, Citizens United—and its progeny, SpeechNow and McCutcheon—are not really about whether Republicans get a leg up on election outcomes. They are about a new regime of campaign spending that dramatically enhances corruption in politics and government by forcing lawmakers to spend more and more of their precious time making fundraising calls, raising money for their own campaigns and their parties, and getting insurance against a last-minute blitz of “independent” spending that trashes them when they have no time to raise money to defend themselves. It also gives added traction to extreme groups threatening lawmakers with primary devastation unless they toe the ideological line.
National: Republican FEC Commissioners Go Public With Complaints About Mystery Redaction | National Journal
The Republican commissioners of the Federal Election Commission have broken their silence about the mysterious 76-page document that was redacted against their wishes in the deadlocked decision over whether Crossroads GPS was a legitimate nonprofit. In a statement posted to the FEC’s website late Tuesday, the commission’s three Republicans pulled back the curtain a bit on the missing document. “We do not believe that these redactions are necessary,” they wrote, saying they had sought to release the documents in a closed-door commission meeting but “the vote failed.” National Journal first reported the existence of the massive redaction and the behind-the-scenes controversy earlier this month.
The five commissioners of the Federal Election Commission are finding it almost impossible to reach agreement on almost anything these days. New commissioners may soon help. The Senate Rules Committee may have an early September vote on two new presidential nominees. The most recent example of inaction was a compliance case (MUR 6540) that reached an impasse in July with three Republicans voted to go against the recommendation of the Office of the General Counsel to find reason to believe the respondents violated (1) the prohibitions on corporate contributions in staging a rally supporting Senator Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential campaign, and (2) made other prohibited contributions in the form of coordinated expenditures. Republican Commissioners McGahn, Hunter and Petersen voted against the recommendation. Democratic Commissioners Weintraub and Walther voted for it. With the impasse the Commission voted in July to close the case without taking any action.
The cries for changing the Federal Election Commission from some editorial boards and campaign finance lobbyists overlook the obvious dangers of an unchecked federal agency regulating the political involvement of citizens. When Congress created the FEC, it did not design an agency that could be wielded as a partisan weapon; instead, the agency is required to be equally divided, with, at most, three of its six members from the same party. Thus, the FEC is designed to ensure fair and impartial regulation and administration of campaign finance laws — not partisan or ideological witch hunts.
In a joint op/ed Wednesday, the three Republican members of the Federal Election Commission blasted campaign finance reformers and good-government groups for proposing changes to the impotent agency, defending themselves as “fair and impartial” regulators and administrators of campaign finance laws. But this same trio has been responsible for historic deadlock at the Commission and has openly refused to follow the campaign rules enacted by Congress. FEC Commissioners Caroline Hunter, Donald McGahn II, and Matthew Petersen, all three of whom continue to serve though their terms have expired, wrote that “The agency’s harshest critics disregard the agency’s prime enforcement directive: Enforce the law as it is, not as some wish it to be.”
Federal Election Commissioner Caroline Hunter’s term expired on April 30. This wouldn’t be newsworthy except for one thing: It means that as of now, all the members of the agency that enforces the nation’s campaign laws—and is supposed to oversee the flood of money candidates and their allies spend—are working on borrowed time. President Obama hasn’t nominated anyone to succeed them. So the current commissioners are simply lingering in their expired seats. To say the FEC is broken is a parody of understatement. The agency’s structure—three Democratic commissioners and three Republicans, serving single six-year terms—means it often deadlocks along party lines. That’s what happened when it tried to update its own regulations in the aftermath of the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, the case that helped open the door to unlimited political spending. The commission’s three Democrats wanted to consider tightening disclosure requirements; the Republicans insisted on reviewing only those rules that conflicted with the court’s ruling. That put the commissioners on the sidelines when spending by independent groups tripled to $1 billion in 2012, up from $300 million in 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a research group that tracks campaign spending.
All five sitting commissioners at the Federal Election Commission are now serving expired terms, while the sixth seat remains unfilled since a commissioner retired on Feb. 1, 2013. FEC Commissioner Caroline Hunter’s term expired on Tuesday. Until their replacements are confirmed by the Senate, FEC commissioners are permitted to stay on. Former Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly resigned her post in February long after her own term had expired. President Barack Obama has not successfully appointed a single new commissioner to the FEC. In 2010, his lone appointee withdrew during a contentious confirmation process. Obama’s failure to name commissioners has been a sore point for campaign finance reformers, who sent a blistering letter to the White House on Monday excoriating the president for not pushing hard enough to reform the nation’s system of campaign funding.
In light of the recent failure of gun control legislation despite widespread public support for change, most Americans would be hard-pressed to name a government entity more dysfunctional than Congress. But that is only because most people have never heard of the Federal Election Commission, which is more out of touch with common sentiment than the House and Senate combined. Voters have become cynical about elected leaders, believing many are bought and paid for. While decrying this public perception, politicians on both sides of the aisle have little interest in taking any concrete action to improve the situation.
Caroline Hunter’s six-year term on the Federal Election Commission expires today. If recent history is any guide, what will happen next is … nothing. Of the six seats on the FEC, which interprets and administers the nation’s election laws, one is vacant and the others are occupied by commissioners with expired terms. It’s tempting to conclude from this that inertia dominates the FEC but that would be mistaken: The commission is more destructive than mere inertia could possibly allow. The most recent effort to instill even rudimentary accountability at the agency took place four years ago, in May 2009, when President Barack Obama nominated labor lawyer John Sullivan to a seat. Sullivan’s nomination sank in senatorial quicksand, and he never made it to the FEC. His nomination represents the bulk of the Obama administration’s work in the field of campaign finance reform.
Cynthia Bauerly, one of six commissioners at the Federal Election Commission, handed in her resignation on Friday and will officially leave the body that oversees campaign finance regulation in February. “It has been my honor and privilege to serve on the Federal Election Commission since 2008,” Bauerly, one of the three Democrats on the commission, wrote in the resignation letter obtained by The Huffington Post. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve the country in this role and I will step down on February 1, 2013.”
Responding to the threat of a congressional subpoena, the Federal Election Commission this afternoon released reams of previously secret documents that detail how it enforces election law. It appears to end — for the moment — a months-long row between the House Administration Committee and election commissioners over how transparent the commission is and should be. The documents made public today include the commission’s enforcement and audit manuals and details of the procedures used by the FEC’s Reports Analysis Division.