Wish List from the Good Gov’t Community: A Decent FEC

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Christmas may have come and gone, but Obama still has the opportunity to give a gift to those who care about good government reform. Here’s the New York Times:

For all the talk of change in Barack Obama’s Washington, it is cynical business as usual for the ever-feckless Federal Election Commission. As a senator, Mr. Obama’s signal reform achievement was a new law designed to crack down on lobbyist “bundlers” who package money from fat-cat donors seeking political favors. The F.E.C. — the bipartisan watchdog that loves to play dead — has now issued regulations for the law that poke it full of loopholes….

We have had little enthusiasm for the F.E.C. But the future only looks grimmer now that Donald McGahn has taken over as chairman. He is a party wheelhorse who was formerly the ethics lawyer for Tom DeLay, the ethically impaired ex-majority leader who quit under a cloud of money-raising scandals.

As president, Mr. Obama will have the power to confront the F.E.C.’s machinations. Three of the six commissioners are due to be replaced. Instead of rubber-stamping nominees suggested by Congressional leaders, he should broaden the process — with a blue-ribbon search panel, perhaps. It would be a real change to have an election watchdog with integrity and bite.

I say forget a blue-ribbon panel. That’s a namby-pamby Washington-esque half-step. Create a wiki where the public can say who it wants on the FEC. The public will never, ever point to milquetoast party operators who will let politicians off the hook. (For more on how the FEC is in the pocket of the two major parties, read the article I wrote in April, back when the FEC lacked a quorum.) Also, a public wiki will guarantee that folks from the Sunlight Foundation, Democracy 21, Common Cause, and the Center for Responsive Politics — the folks who promote no interest other than getting the government to better serve the public interest — will have a voice. Currently, there is an implicit agreement whereby congressional lawmakers, the folks that the FEC regulates, tell the president who to appoint. I say the folks who regularly work for better regulation, instead of worse, should get that privilege.

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