Traverse City Record-Eagle

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December 27, 2013

Another View: FEC watchdog is starved and rotting

(Continued)

n Despite an explosion in political spending hastened by key Supreme Court decisions, the agency’s funding has remained flat for five years and staffing levels have fallen to a 15-year low.

n Analysts charged with scouring disclosure reports to ensure candidates and political committees are complying with laws have a nearly quarter-million-page backlog. Commissioners themselves are grappling with nearly 270 unresolved enforcement cases.

n Staff morale has plummeted as key employees have fled and others question whether their work remains relevant. Among top FEC jobs currently unfilled or filled on an “acting” basis: general counsel, associate general counsel for policy, associate general counsel for litigation, chief financial officer and accounting director. The staff director doubles as IT director.

As an example of the gridlock, this year the Conservative Action Fund, a PAC, asked for guidance on the use of bitcoins — an all-digital currency. CPI noted that FEC staffers drafted four plans of action, spanning 83 pages, for commissioners to consider.

The Republicans supported the option; Democrats blocked them for a typical 3-3 deadlock.

The CPI’s conclusion is that with the nation facing what purports to be one of the most expensive midterm elections in history and a 2016 presidential election that is pivotal for the nation, “the FEC is rotting from the inside out.”

Frank P. Reiche, a Republican who served as an FEC commissioner from 1979 to 1985, said in the CPI report. “It’s sad — very sad — and the agency is almost doomed to failure for carrying out its statutory mission unless reform measures are implemented and adopted by Congress.”

Don’t expect remedies to come from the administration either. The CPI noted that although President Obama railed against the Citizens United decision, he has given his blessing to the formation of Organizing for Action, a lobbying group that reveals limited information about its donors.

Without adequate national media scrutiny and some Congressional advocates for reform, we can expect unbridled big-money sponsorship of elections despite all the legislation passed to keep such shenanigans in check.

The Mankato, Minn., Free Press

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