It used to be broken by ideological divisions. But today it is broken by simple party politics. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) – the agency responsible for interpreting and enforcing federal campaign finance laws – is being swept under the bus of partisan one-up-manship. Republicans have gained a temporary one-seat majority on the Commission and they may take advantage of it for partisan purposes – namely, to associate the Obama Administration and Democrats generally with a conspiracy of using federal agencies to attack conservative nonprofit political organizations. In an unexpected twist, congressional Republicans Darrel Issa (R-Cal.) and Candice Miller (R-Mich.) have teamed up with at least one Republican colleague at the FEC in an effort to tie the agency to the ongoing story of whether high-level IRS staff inappropriately targeted the tax-exempt applications of groups based on partisanship. An email exchange from FEC staff to IRS staff requesting public information about the tax status of a conservative political organization prompted accusations of collusion between the two agencies for conspiring to persecute conservatives.
Republican FEC Commissioner Don McGahn recently went on the airwaves fueling the notion that the government is targeting groups for political revenge and shared more previously undisclosed emails between FEC and IRS staff that, in his words, “could be benign or could be more sinister.”
This conspiracy theory could well have an ulterior motive: to promote new FEC enforcement guidelines that would make it very difficult for the agency to investigate violations of campaign finance laws.
The FEC is a six-member commission, three Democrats and three Republicans that can only make decisions by majority vote. The members are essentially selected by the majority and minority leaders of the Senate, then nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) realized as early as 2008 that the campaign finance laws can be rendered impotent if he selects three commissioners who decline to enforce the law.