Breaking Gridlock at the FEC

Posted by Dale Eisman on June 8, 2015

Thumbnail for the Money in Politics issue bucket

After months of speech-making and letter-writing aimed at prodding their colleagues into action, two members of the Federal Election Commission took a new and unprecedented step on Monday to break the agency’s well-documented gridlock.

Chairwoman Ann Ravel and Commissioner Ellen Weintraub rolled out a nine-page petition to the agency, essentially demanding that it do its job.

"Desperate times call for desperate measures," Weintraub told USA Today. "The normal routes are not working, so we are willing to take unusual paths to fight the inaction."

The pair’s petition appears aimed at forcing a formal debate -- before the commission itself – on their complaints that the agency is failing in its responsibility to enforce campaign finance laws. It comes amid intense media scrutiny of the ties between several apparent-but-as-yet-undeclared presidential candidates and “independent” groups created to raise money in support of their expected candidacies.

The petition also follows an announcement last week that the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center (CLC) is preparing to sue the FEC over its failure to act on CLC complaints of campaign finance law violations.

Earlier this year, thousands of Common Cause activists filed comments to a proceeding urging the FEC to act on improving its disclosure rules.  Common Cause also testified at a day-long hearing on the need for the FEC to enforce the law and improve its rules after the Supreme Court decisions in Citizens United and McCutcheon.

Specifically, the Ravel-Weintraub petition asks that the FEC:

  • Adopt rules requiring full disclosure of political spending by corporations and labor unions; both may now hide their political activities by directing donations to non-profit political groups that are exempt from disclosure requirements.
  • Clarify that a ban on campaign spending by foreign nationals also applies to spending by U.S. corporations owned or controlled by a foreign national.
  • Adopt a rule making it clear that corporations and labor groups may not coerce employees and members into supporting corporate or union political activities.
  • Adopt rules that would ensure that political spending by super PACs and other outside spending groups is truly independent of candidates and political parties.

The FEC typically conducts public hearings on rulemaking petitions like the one filed by Ravel and Weintraub. Ravel told USA Today that "the public will have an opportunity to raise their concerns about the campaign-finance system and disclosure."

The six-member FEC is composed of three Democrats and three Republicans. In recent years, it has deadlocked 3-3 on a variety of campaign finance issues, with some members barely on speaking terms. The commission is “worse than dysfunctional,” Ravel told the New York Times last month.

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Money in Politics

Tags: Fighting Big Money

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