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FEC Member Says it Aloud: We’re Dysfunctional

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The FEC “is failing to enforce the nation’s campaign finance laws," Ann Ravel wrote. The FEC “is failing to enforce the nation’s campaign finance laws," Ann Ravel wrote. Rich Pedroncelli/AP file photo

Seldom does a high-level agency official state baldly in a public venue that her taxpayer-supported regulatory authority is utterly failing to do its job.

Ann Ravel, vice chairwoman of the long-controversial Federal Election Commission, came close to such Washington hari-kari in an op-ed in Thursday’s New York Times. The FEC “is failing to enforce the nation’s campaign finance laws,” the Democrat wrote. “I’ve been on the commission only six months, yet I’ve quickly learned how paralyzed the F.E.C. has become and how the courts have turned a blind eye to this paralysis.”

In a portrayal not likely to win Republican commission members’ sympathy, Ravel said, “the problem stems from three members who vote against pursuing investigations into potentially significant fund-raising and spending violations. In effect, cases are being swept under the rug by the very agency charged with investigating them.”

The gridlock persists because the commission by law must have three Democrats and three Republicans. But citing Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling striking down aggregate caps on campaign giving, she lamented that the FEC had never looked into whether the Karl Rove-founded Crossroads GPS, “a so-called social welfare organization that spent millions on political advertising in the 2010 election cycle, was, in fact, a political committee that should disclose its funding sources.” 

She added: “I believe that our failure to investigate is indefensible. Unfortunately, the courts traditionally have given great deference to commission decisions and, in cases like this, to the analysis of the three commissioners who vote not to pursue cases. This means that there is little meaningful judicial review.”

Oh, to be a fly on the wall at the next all-hands FEC meeting.

Charlie Clark joined Government Executive in the fall of 2009. He has been on staff at The Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly, National Journal, Time-Life Books, Tax Analysts, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and the National Center on Education and the Economy. He has written or edited online news, daily news stories, long features, wire copy, magazines, books and organizational media strategies.

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