FEC chair petitions FEC to enforce FEC regulations, is ignored by FEC




The 2016 presidential election is literally out of control.

On Monday, USA Today reported that FEC chairwoman Ann Ravel, along with fellow Democratic commissioner Ellen Weintraub had filed a petition with their own agency requesting that it enforce what few campaign finance regulations they have left to enforce.

The petition calls on the FEC to crack down on campaigns that are blatantly ignoring the requirement that they keep campaign and super PAC activities separate, along with asking the agency to ensure that donations to outside groups are disclosed when required. It further asks the FEC to make it clearer that foreign companies can’t donate in American elections. All of these things are already rules, of course, but the 3-3 partisan split amongst the FEC’s commissioners ensures that no action will be taken to hold candidates accountable to them.

The FEC is deadlocked to the point at which watchdog groups have given up appealing to them. Last month, a group of campaign finance advocates sent a letter to the Department of Justice, instead of the FEC, asking them to investigate Jeb Bush for blatant and shameless violations of rules relating to super PAC coordination and contribution limits.

The petition is just the latest in Ravel’s frustrations with partisan gridlock in our nation’s electoral governing body. Back in April Ravel wanted to throw a celebration of the agency’s 40th anniversary with former and current commissioners. Her Republican colleagues objected, with one former Republican commissioner telling The Wall Street Journal that “…the FEC isn’t really 40, having been declared unconstitutional not once but twice, first in 1976, and as recently as 1993.”

As Mother Jones commented:

According to the Journal, the two sides argued over the age of the FEC, the venue for the party, and at what time to hold the affair. They even bickered over whether the negotiations over the party were contentious (a Republican commissioner insisted they were not).

As Ravel told The New York Times last month, “People think the F.E.C. is dysfunctional. It’s worse than dysfunctional,” adding that “there is not going to be any real enforcement” in this coming election. The Times also quoted Weintraub as saying that “The few rules that are left, people feel free to ignore.”

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That assertion is borne out in the data, as measured by fines levied by the FEC year over year. In 2013, the FEC levied $627,408 in fines; it only issued $135,813 in fines last year. If anything, one would expect fines to increase from an off-year election to a midterm, but the opposite happened. Asked by the Times to explain this, Caroline Hunter, a Republican FEC commissioner, said with a straight face that campaigns are simply following the law more closely now as a result of the commission’s compliance training efforts.

Half of the FEC has no intention of enforcing its own campaign finance regulations, which means that none of the FEC has the capacity to. As long as that remains the case, we’re in for an effectively unregulated election in 2016. May the richest candidate win.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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