Movement at the Federal Election Commission

October 8, 2014
posted by Bob Bauer

In a letter sent to the Federal Election Commission yesterday, individuals who have experience with the FEC applauded the move toward a rulemaking to conform the rules to recent Supreme Court decisions, and urged more of the same, in a similar spirit of putting the regulatory house in order. (I am one of the signatories).

The FEC is followed closely only when it is contending with the most difficult, most divisive issues.  It is blamed for much of what makes critics unhappy with the law when there are major contributing factors—like changes in constitutional jurisprudence—that the agency can do little about. But in the meantime, the agency is charged with implementing the core requirements—limits, prohibitions and disclosure requirements—which courts have upheld.  How it does this job matters, and it should matter to both proponents and opponents of more extensive regulation.

A rulebook in disrepair, or that is unclear or inconsistent on key requirements, can serve no good purpose. It frustrates compliance and diminishes respect for the regulatory enterprise within whatever bounds have been set for it.  For those worried about flagrant loopholes and their exploitation, poorly crafted or inconsistent rules will worsen the problem.  The same holds true for the other direction: observers who worry about excessive bureaucratic discretion, or the risks posed by legal complexity for the exercise of free speech, should support a call for clarity, precision and consistency in the rulebook.

The announcement that the FEC is preparing to revise the rules in the light of recent constitutional case law is a promising move toward improved, bipartisan administration of campaign finance law.  There are more actions like this available to the agency once it is firmly set on this course.  The outcome—bipartisanship displayed by a functioning FEC—is one that many who follow the field have been calling for. It may not mean a resolution of any “major” issues, but it is a start, and who is to say where it can lead?

Here is a link to the letter.

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