If you were holding onto the faint hope that federal election campaigns were ever going to be anything but “buy your way into office” spending sprees, you may as well kiss it goodbye. The Federal Election Committee’s head has just admitted her agency is completely powerless to do the one thing it’s supposed to be doing.
The leader of the Federal Election Commission, the agency charged with regulating the way political money is raised and spent, says she has largely given up hope of reining in abuses in the 2016 presidential campaign, which could generate a record $10 billion in spending.
“The likelihood of the laws being enforced is slim,” Ann M. Ravel, the chairwoman, said in an interview. “I never want to give up, but I’m not under any illusions. People think the F.E.C. is dysfunctional. It’s worse than dysfunctional.”
It’s not often you hear a public official openly state that the agency under her control can’t do its job. Usually, excuses are made, bucks are passed and talking points spun to give the illusion that agencies are not only capable of performing their duties, but could be oh so much better if they weren’t hobbled by everything but themselves. This is refreshing — if ultimately depressing — honesty.
Much of the problem is the system itself. Like the elections it’s unsuccessfully regulating, it’s subject to the whims of two diametrically-opposed political parties. There are six commissioners: three Democrats and three Republicans. What was intended to be fair has instead devolved into gridlock, with the two parties rarely reaching an agreement on anything. This is the behavior of the supposed adults in the room:
Some commissioners are barely on speaking terms, cross-aisle negotiations are infrequent, and with no consensus on which rules to enforce, the caseload against violators has plummeted.
With the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision loosening restrictions on campaign spending, it has been left up to the Commission to police campaign funding abuse. Sadly, it’s not that the Commission lacks the power to do so. It’s that it lacks commissioners willing to rise above the base level of partisan politics to do it.
Again, these are the people — all supposedly mature adults — who are supposed to be safeguarding the electoral process.
[T]he six commissioners hardly ever rule unanimously on major cases, or even on some of the most minor matters. Last month at an event commemorating the commission’s 40th anniversary, even the ceremony proved controversial. Democrats and Republicans skirmished over where to hold it, whom to include and even whether to serve bagels or doughnuts. In a rare compromise, they ended up serving both.
There’s $10 billion headed into the pockets of presidential candidates and commissioners aren’t going to do much more than taxpayer-funded paychecks while muttering insults at opposing party members. And while the Oval Office goes on the auction block, the Commission will be arguing over baked goods.