Don McGahn has made his mark on the Federal Election Commission, and the recent Boston Globe account tells the story in familiar terms: he was dedicated to the evisceration of the campaign finance laws, he could count on the support of his Republican colleagues, and he did not go about this business with a soft touch. Commissioners now decline to reach across the aisle except to swat at one other, leaving two senior members to argue over the question of which of the them refused to answer the other's phone calls. The agency’s operations are defined by dysfunction, its atmosphere by disharmony. As the Globe dates these developments, the year 2008, when McGahn came to the FEC, is the turning point.

To accept that this is an unattractive portrait of the FEC—that this is not a model of constructive regulatory exertion even on difficult issues—is not to say that the picture is complete. The FEC has found the going rough for years, as the Globe noted: "stalled from the start," in the words of an early Common Cause critique. If what was once a stall has developed into flaming breakdown, the explanation must rest on more than the obduracy since 2008 of Don McGahn and his colleagues. The Globe makes a light pass on other factors but they remain in the background, diminished and incomplete.