FEC RIP

Pete Martin and Zachary Roth have an excellent piece on how Republican nominees have made the Federal Election Committee disappear. It’s a great example of the kind of story that is too politically loaded for the mainstream media:

FEC watchers say the commission’s three Republicans — Donald McGahn, Matthew Petersen, and Caroline Hunter, each nominated by President Bush — are acting out of philosophical opposition to the very idea of regulating campaign money. “It’s the Republican caucus that actually believes there shouldn’t be campaign-finance regulation,” said Holman. “It is ideological. They are ideologically opposed to the purpose of the Federal Election Commission.”

Whether Obama will do anything about it remains to be seen:

Most experts believe that the White House supports stronger campaign-finance laws as a goal, but, with a host of other issues on its plate, is reluctant to pick a fight with the GOP Senate leader. “They’re picking their priorities, and they don’t want to take on Mitch McConnell right now,” said Hasen. “I consider that unfortunate.”

Holman agreed. McGahn’s term, abridged by the Spakovsky holdup, has now expired as well, and Holman suggested that Obama could play a more active role in nominating McGahn’s replacement — as the president would be within his rights to do — rather than leaving it to McConnell. “The president has to decide,” said Holman. “He’s either going to go with Mitch McConnell’s appointee and render the FEC functionless, or he’s going to break tradition and bring the FEC back to life.”

The cynic in me fears that the Obama administration feels that weak campaign finance law enforcement are to its advantage and that they will do nothing about this.






35 replies
  1. 1
    cleek says:

    gutting campaign finance laws is treason against President McCain

  2. 2
    Face says:

    The cynic in me fears that the Obama administration feels that weak campaign finance law enforcement are to its advantage and that they will do nothing about this.

    Why would a popular president able to raise a gazillion dollars by snapping his fingers want more campaign finance regulations?

  3. 3
    SGEW says:

    We very well might see a real push by the Obama administration on this – in 2013.

  4. 4
    ricky says:

    I would be furiously clucking my tongue if anyone could
    demonstrate to me that issues raised by the FEC ever altered the outcome of a campaign.

  5. 5
    fester says:

    @ #2 Face

    Why would a popular president able to raise a gazillion dollars by snapping his fingers want more campaign finance regulations?

    Comparative advantage baby, comparative advantage.

    Obama is able to raise boatloads of money from distributed small donors who are ideoligcally not abhorrent to the rest of a potential winning coalition. The DFHs don’t smell that bad any more :)

    A certain type of increased restrictions on fundraising that increases the political costs of raising big money donations means that future Obama opponents will either have less money overall, a lower resource ratio compared to Obama and his allies or rely on ideologically abhorrent small donors.

    Right now the Republican small donor base is no longer Grandma sending in 25 bucks because that Ronny Reagan sure was right about a few things. Instead the Republican small dollar donor is some combination of a Minuteman, anti-abortion hardliner, sex/gender role control freak, Freeper or Ron Paul supporter. None of those individual profiles are particularly appealling to middle of the road, low information voters.

    If there are more regulations that enhance the ease and comparative value of harvesting small donor dollars, the GOP either has to respond to its small donor base (which is ugly) or go broke.

  6. 6
    SpotWeld says:

    Would any move towards a strong FEC somehow translate into squawks of “Big Goverment Soc-alism” “Hijacked Election” “ACORN ACORN ACORN” “Mustard and Teabags”.

    Also.. I nominate “Mustard and Teabags” to be the right wingnut version of “Millennium Hand and Shrimp”

  7. 7
    Fern says:

    The cynic in me fears that the Obama administration feels that weak campaign finance law enforcement are to its advantage…

    Why would weak enforcement benefit the Democrats?

  8. 8
    anonevent says:

    (Watch me derail the thread)

    Obama has to choose his battles, like deciding not to aggressively push a GLBT agenda right now.

  9. 9
    Lee says:

    I’m going to have to go with the Republicans on this one.

    If the FEC has ever had any sort of power I might disagree, but I cannot recall them every doing anything of significance.

    Someone mightget a wrist slap post-election, but they never act when it might actually make a difference.

    Take away the restraints and let every person donate as much as they want to whichever candidate they want. Just make the donor lists public information as soon as possible.

  10. 10
    Ned Ludd says:

    Small donors (giving an aggregate of $200 or less) were responsible for 26% of Obama’s cash. In comparison, small donors were responsible for 25% of Bush’s cash in 2004. So while Obama brought in a lot of new donors, the percentage of his campaign funded by small donors is pretty typical. In contrast, Howard Dean got 38% of his cash from small donors.

    Large donors and bundlers contributed much more money to Obama’s campaign than small donors.

    At the top of the bundlers were 47 of Obama’s and 65 of McCain’s who were listed by the campaigns in mid-August as being responsible for at least $500,000 each. In addition, Public Citizen lists 2,205 people as having contributed in their own names at least $25,000 to joint fundraising committees supporting Obama and 1,846 people as having made similar contributions to joint fundraising committees supporting McCain…

    In Obama’s case, one should combine the estimated $90 million or so he received with the help of bundlers through August with the remaining $120 million or so from other large donors, and then compare it to the $119 million he raised from small donors through August. The comparison should make one think twice before describing small donors as the financial engine of the Obama campaign.

    Campaign Finance Institute

  11. 11
    Ned Ludd says:

    For what it’s worth, in my comment above, the last paragraph was also supposed to be part of the quote from the Campaign Finance Institute. For some reason, the blockquote tag didn’t work right.

  12. 12
    Xanthippas says:

    The real problem is Buckley v. Valeo. You can set up whatever commissions you like, but the Supreme Court has made it clear they will eviscerate any meaningful campaign finance laws.

  13. 13
    Zifnab says:

    “They’re picking their priorities, and they don’t want to take on Mitch McConnell right now,” said Hasen. “I consider that unfortunate.”

    When does he get to take on McConnell? You’ve got a guy dead set on iron-fisted obstruction of every major Obama initiative. What cards does Obama think McConnell has left to play in the Democrats’ favor? When do we get to just throw down and do this thing, already?

    I mean, maybe I really am missing something and the soft-handed approach Obama is taking will win the day in the long run. But every time the GOP works itself up into a lather – whether their in a strong majority pushing Terri Shavio legislation, or in a middling position opposing immigration reform, or completely lost fighting the Sotomayor nomination – it seems to come out of the fight weaker than when it started.

    Isn’t it in Obama’s best interests to pick fights with a GOP?

  14. 14
    Paul L. says:

    Obama is able to raise boatloads of money from distributed small donors

    Helped by turning off the credit card AVS (Address Verification Service) for Obama’s donation website.

    Obama administration feels that weak campaign finance law enforcement are to its advantage

    Obama likely to escape campaign audit

  15. 15
    Zifnab says:

    @Ned Ludd:

    In Obama’s case, one should combine the estimated $90 million or so he received with the help of bundlers through August with the remaining $120 million or so from other large donors, and then compare it to the $119 million he raised from small donors through August. The comparison should make one think twice before describing small donors as the financial engine of the Obama campaign.

    Up until this point, I don’t think people really believed that you could raise $119 million just from small donors. And while the $200 or less figure was only marginally more impressive than McCain’s, the $999 or less gave him a 12% edge over his GOP rival. Contrast that with McCain who brought in 3 out of every 5 donors above the $1k mark.

    And then you just have to look at the raw figures. While – percentage wise – Obama and Bush were on par, Obama still managed to bring in much more cash by volume. Assuming his contributions from high-dollar donors completely evaporated, he would have still been on par with Bush – or at least Kerry – fund raising numbers in ’04.

    So while Obama might not have driven his campaign on small dollar contributions, the fact is that he conceivably could have. With that in mind, would Obama feel as beholden to said high dollar interests as a comparable President McCain?

  16. 16
    Napoleon says:

    Maybe someone should mention to Obama that the reason you keep your powder dry is to be able to use that powder on something. So far he has rolled over on every single issue and refused to get tough with those standing in his way, and this is another great example.

  17. 17
    rumpole says:

    Uh., what could he actually do? They’re commissioners, which means that unlike cabinet members, they don’t serve at the pleasure of the president. He can’t ask them to resign, and he’d need legislation to pack the commission with more robust enforcement types.

    In other words, there’ s not a whole lot he can productively do except for make noise, and that would change nothing. As you said, they are ideologues. Plus, to make matters worse, they probably have five votes for saying that corporations should get unlimited first amendment rights in the campaign context when they review the Austin decision next year in Citizens United. Which means that the FEC is probably going to have much, much less to do. If you think they’re sitting on their duffs now, just wait…

  18. 18
    gex says:

    @anonevent: Meh. We’re over it. Obama’s shit isn’t nearly as bad as the Fort Worth/San Diego incidents. Instead of asking for marriage rights, we’re back to asking not to have our skulls fractured.

  19. 19
    Zifnab says:

    @Paul L.: You’d think with such blatant and transparent fraud like this, the Bush DoJ would have jumped on it and conducted full, comprehensive investigations. Was Bush complicit in this fraud, too?

  20. 20

    Holman suggested that Obama could play a more active role in nominating McGahn’s replacement

    Hell, I’d be happy if Obama would play a more active role in ANY important Constitutional issue. I think the guy just wanted a good gig, you know? Geez. He wants to lock people up forever, just like the idiot who preceded him, but he still doesn’t seem to realize he won.

  21. 21

    Life imitates art? There was an episode of The West Wing which dealt with this issue. Pretty good if memory serves (but what episodes of WW weren’t good?)

    Amazing how much that show now seems to be coming to reality.

    That episode was exactly on point.

  22. 22

    @John Hamilton Farr:

    Hell, I’d be happy if Obama would play a more active role in ANY important Constitutional issue. I think the guy just wanted a good gig, you know? Geez. He wants to lock people up forever, just like the idiot who preceded him, but he still doesn’t seem to realize he won.

    Think Lincoln, not FDR. Obama is getting a lot more done by being patient and letting Congress do the lifting than he would by exhausting his political capital in any one fight.

    Obama looks long term.

  23. 23
    Brachiator says:

    The cynic in me fears that the Obama administration feels that weak campaign finance law enforcement are to its advantage and that they will do nothing about this.

    Works for me. The fantasy of campaign finance is that it would allow fresh, new, independent candidates to rise up and challenge the status quo. But Obama has shown that it is possible to tap advantage of new ways of gaining support and campaign financing without having to depend on federal financing.

    On the other hand, with the exception of Ron Paul, we have seen few new faces come up on the national political scene, and the old faces, like Nader, have shown themselves to be one-trick ponies incapable of responding to new realities.

    And although campaign finance reform promises to level the playing field between new candidates and incumbents, the very idea of federal financing of elections is fatally flawed. Why in the world would I want any of my money to go to someone like Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney? It doesn’t make sense to attempt to be “fair” if it would force people to support the candidacies of politicians whom they absolutely despsise.

    The only thing about campaign finance that is remotely interesting would be rules about transparency and accountability, although God knows the Republicans and some Democrats would fight this to the death.

  24. 24
    Walker says:

    This is one thing I have always been in agreement with George Will about. Loosen the restrictions, but make the donor lists open and transparent – and do a good job enforcing this.

  25. 25
    Zifnab says:

    @Brachiator:

    Why in the world would I want any of my money to go to someone like Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney? It doesn’t make sense to attempt to be “fair” if it would force people to support the candidacies of politicians whom they absolutely despsise.

    The logic is that you don’t want a plutocracy and that the single biggest barrier to running a successful political campaign is fund raising. Break down the fund raising barrier and you get a flood of new candidates. In exchange for a Palin or a Romney, you’ll get a Dean or a Kerry to balance it out. That’s the theory, at least.

    In practice, you’re still stuck with a two-party system and limited funding overall. So you’re just as likely to get your tax dollars going to fund the Zell Miller versus Lindsey Graham race where everyone loses. Or, if you’re a conservative living in New York, a run off between Michael Bloomberg and Barney Frank. The parties still control the nomination process, so they still control all the money.

    People don’t seem to want to accept that good fund raising is a symptom of a strong campaign and not the cause of one. If you’ve got strong fund raising, it means you’ve got a strong base of support.

    What we really need, if we want more candidates and more open elections, is a public media apparatus that gives more citizens a soap box on which to profess their political beliefs. All the money really buys you is more public exposure. We could achieve the same results as public financing if we had mandatory public debates and equal public air time for all candidates. Then you would give every candidate a baseline of media exposure from which they could launch their campaigns.

  26. 26
    Paul L. says:

    @Zifnab:

    @Paul L.: You’d think with such blatant and transparent fraud like this, the Bush DoJ would have jumped on it and conducted full, comprehensive investigations. Was Bush complicit in this fraud, too?

    Like they did with Sandy Berg(l)er?
    Maybe the career hacks at the Bush Doj Public Integrity Section were too busy hiding and manufacturing evidence to convict Ted Stevens.

  27. 27
    Ash Can says:

    Loosen the restrictions, but make the donor lists open and transparent – and do a good job enforcing this.

    The more I think about this idea, the more I like it. My concern regarding campaign finance regulations has always been the potential of deep-pocketed special interests buying candidates. However, if it’s obvious to everyone just who those special interests are and how much they’re paying for their candidates, the problem is substantially mitigated.

    Of course, like Walker says, this has to be enforced. We’d be putting an awful lot of trust in the auditors to spot the money coming in, quantify it accurately, and accurately identify the sources. And the campaigns wouldn’t be making it easy for the auditors, either, devising red herrings and shell games that would make the current PAC Byzantium look like a child’s dressertop piggy bank. But if the right rules can be drawn up and followed, it might prove best in the long run.

  28. 28
    ricky says:

    As of this comment, the score is Dog Has Fleas 104, FEC Death 25. Even the politcally concerned are yawning.

  29. 29
    Sean says:

    DougJ,

    You aren’t being cynical – you’re being realistic. You are right to fear the Obama Administration’s inaction. They now have a track-record of supporting stupid, illegal or unjust practices if they calculate its in their political interests to do so.

    Based on passed behavior, I calculate that Obama will give his tacit approval to the disemboweling of the FEC.

    -Sean

  30. 30
    GReynoldsCT00 says:

    Heads up! MN Supremes “pave way for Franken Senate Seat” MSNBC

  31. 31
    CalD says:

    I regard the fact that Mitch McConnell is still a sitting Senator to be nothing short of political malpractice on the part of one Charles Schumer and the DSCC. And don’t even get me started again on John Cornyn. I wonder if we could sue… like maybe a class action suit on the part of sane and ethical people everywhere.

    I suppose if McConnell were gone, they’d probably just find themselves someone even crazier than old Mitch for the job. Today’s Republic party ;-) does have a pretty deep bench after all, when it comes to hammer-damaged, massive-head-trauma craziness. But those were still two senate seats that I just don’t want to hear any excuses about not picking up.

  32. 32
    Ned Ludd says:

    @Walker: The donor lists are already open and transparent. If someone gives more than $200 in aggregate to any candidate during an election cycle, they need to provide their name, address, organization, and occupation. The candidate then turns this information into the FEC along with the date and amount donated, and the FEC makes it all public.

    The Center for Responsive Politics has a great website called OpenSecrets.org that lets you easily access this data. For instance, by typing in your zip code, you can see who your neighbors are giving money to. The street addresses of donors are also in the FEC data and available to the public (unless something’s changed recently), but it looks like OpenSecrets.org chose not to show them.

    You can also search by name. For example, on 9/26/08, Markos Moulitsas of California gave $1,300 to Barack Obama. On 9/13/06, Duncan Black of Pennsylvania gave $250 to VoteVets.org.

    OpenSecrets.org also compiles are sorts of lists from the campaign finance data:

    Top Individual Donors
    To Organizations
    Top Industries

  33. 33
    Ned Ludd says:

    @Ash Can: My other comment responding to Walker is in moderation, but I wanted to point out that you can already look up donor information (by donor name, zip code, occupation, employer, recipient, etc.) at OpenSecrets.org. They get the data from the FEC.

    Anyone who gives more than $200 in aggregate to any candidate in an election cycle has to provide their name, address, organization, and occupation to the candidate, who turns it into the FEC. The FEC makes all this publicly available.

  34. 34
    Ash Can says:

    @Ned Ludd: Thanks for the info!

  35. 35

    @Zifnab

    So while Obama might not have driven his campaign on small dollar contributions, the fact is that he conceivably could have. With that in mind, would Obama feel as beholden to said high dollar interests as a comparable President McCain?

    Well according to Matt Taibbi’s latest article in Rolling Stone Obama seems to be giving Goldman Sachs everything that they could possibly want, and if Waxman-Markey passes and a futures trading system is set up for carbon permits they’ll be getting even more.

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