The FEC Brings Down the Hammer (Belatedly)

I was encouraged to see this, kind of:

…the Federal Election Commission has closed the books on 17 more campaign finance investigations… Among those fined were Sen. Mel Martinez and former House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt.

Martinez, R-Fla., was fined $99,000 for exceeding contribution
limits in his 2004 campaign by some $313,000, and for not properly
filing required forms.

Gephardt, D-Mo., was fined $42,000 for accepting $211,000 in
donations beyond the limit in his 2004 presidential bid and for
spending $163,000 more on the Iowa caucuses than allowed.

These fines are hefty, and I’m happy to see the FEC extract them. But this highlights a major shortcoming in the way the FEC does business — fining politicians five years after they violate elections law does not provide them with a serious disincentive for doing it again. If you’re a special interest group and you desperately want to see a proposition defeated or a candidate booted from office, you are far more likely to circumvent the law in order to do so if you know you can tie the FEC up in legal knots for years and only pay a fine way down the road.

And let’s say you do get hit with a serious fine five years on. Half a decade’s worth of beneficial policy that you got by cheating the electoral system is almost certainly worth a couple hundred thousand bucks, right? For more on how/why the FEC doesn’t work like it should, see here and here.