The Federal Election Commission is the sole watchdog overseeing the increasingly shadowy world of US campaign finance, and by most accounts, it is a hopeless shell of regulator. In a sharply worded letter (PDF) sent to President Obama today, eight good government groups implored the president to pay more attention to the broken FEC, and to consider replacing five of the agency’s commissioners who, come May 1, will be eligible to be replaced. “The effort to remake the FEC and restore the integrity of our campaign finance laws cannot begin until you nominate new Commissioners,” the letter reads.
The groups behind the letter include Democracy 21, a strong supporter of campaign finance reform, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Public Citizen, and Common Cause, among others. They call the FEC “a national campaign finance scandal,” and point to agency’s three Republican commissioners—Don McGahn, Matthew Petersen, and Caroline Hunter—as the root of the FEC’s problems. “The actions of these Commissioners,” the reform groups write, “have turned the FEC into a rogue, non-functioning enforcement agency.”
Here’s an example of the FEC’s dysfunction cited in today’s letter:
According to a BNA Report (March 4, 2011), the FEC professional staff found through audits that the Kansas Republican party and a unit of Georgia Democratic party each had improperly used campaign funds. Three Commissioners voted to support the FEC staff’s findings in both cases.
The three obstructionist Commissioners, however, voted to reject the staff’s recommendations in both cases and thereby blocked findings that the Republican and Democratic Party committees each had committed campaign finance violations.
And that kind of deadlock is all too frequent at the FEC, which was created in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal. To replace the current crop of commissioners, the eight reform groups suggest the president create a bipartisan “advisory group” to hand-pick qualified candidates, even though the process is traditionally handled by Congress.
Bypassing Congress on the FEC won’t help the president move his other agenda items forward. But the reform groups say the president cannot stay idle in his handling of the agency. There’s too much at stake. Several billion dollars are expected to be spent on the 2012 presidential race alone.
Read the groups’ letter to President Obama: