Get a Real FEC, Not One that Protects Special Interests

| Tue Dec. 30, 2008 10:09 AM PST

When do-gooders waste precious blogosphere space to do boring things like beg for a FEC that actually plays an active role in regulating America's elections (i.e. does its damn job), this is why. Bloomberg:

The Federal Election Commission, in a party-line vote, has overruled a recommendation by its counsel to fine a U.S. Chamber of Commerce group accused of illegal spending practices in attacking the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004.
The Republican members of the FEC opposed the penalty against the chamber's November Fund, creating a 3-3 deadlock that rejected the counsel's recommendation.
The November Fund was accused of violating federal campaign spending limits by using $3 million it received from the chamber to attack Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards, a former trial lawyer, in 2004. The FEC deadlock in the November Fund case was announced last week.
"The FEC has transformed itself from a merely dysfunctional agency to one that now openly thumbs its nose at the law," said Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center.

The facts of the case seem to suggest this should have been an open-and-shut deal. The Republicans who are declining to fine the Chamber are refusing to justify their decision to the press. But don't think this is a partisan problem. The three Republican commissioners on the FEC protect the GOP and its most valuable allies (in this instance, that mean the Chamber of Commerce) and the three Democratic commissioners on the FEC protect the Democratic Party and its most valuable allies. If the group in question was the SEIU and not the Chamber, you'd have similar gridlock.

The FEC's incompetence and unwillingness to take aggressive action is borne out of the same conflict of interest created when the Bush-era EPA decided to let corporations self-police their emissions. The regulated do the regulating. As long as the politicians that fall under the FEC's purview are allowed to appoint the FEC's commissioners (and currently, congressional lawmakers basically tell the president who to install), you will have a body that prioritizes the powers that be over the public interest.

And one final point. Why on earth is the FEC still adjudicating cases from the 2004 election? (Part of the answer here.) Any major special interest — like the Chamber of Commerce, for example — that knows it can influence an important election and then tie up the relevant regulatory body for four years is going to take advantage of that option. Who would blame it? Just another reason why the FEC badly needs reform.

Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.