Feb. 14, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

K Street Files: Watchdogs Attack FEC

Ethics reform groups are hitting back against a recent ruling by the Federal Election Commission to relax candidate air travel restrictions. Democracy 21, the Campaign Legal Center and others are trying to devise a strategy to overturn a decision that would allow candidates for Senate, vice president and president to use corporate jets as private air service as long as the candidates say they are traveling for reasons other than their election.

Senators who say they are traveling not for election purposes can pay a cheaper first-class rate instead of the much higher charter rate.

“We are examining what the options are,” said Fred Wertheimer, head of Democracy 21. “We are clearly looking at ways to overturn this decision.”

Wertheimer declined to comment on what tactics may be under consideration.

This is the latest in a series of controversial FEC rulings. In an odd twist, FEC Chairman Steven Walther quoted Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center in his public statement on the ruling.

Walther suggested that the groups would support the “existing reimbursement rate structure for non-candidate travel” because the statute does not cover non-candidate travel.

Both groups adamantly denied the assertion that they would support the measure, saying Walther should know better.

“When this provision passed, absolutely no one thought that a Senator would be free to continue with this abuse by paying with his or her leadership committee funds,” Wertheimer said. “This is a bizarre interpretation and another example of the Republican commissioners exercising complete control of the agency where they either force a Democrat to vote with them in order to get anything done or block action.”

Walther defended his vote, saying he opted to side with the Republican commissioners in order to get a rule on the books. Walther said he supports broader regulations to cover Senate candidates, but he was unsuccessful in getting Republicans on the commission to vote for it because the statute does not specifically mention Senate leadership political action committees.

So far, the reform community has a powerful ally in Congress — Sen. Russ Feingold. The Wisconsin Democrat was a key champion of getting the measure added to the 2007 ethics package. Feingold has publicly stated since the FEC’s announcement that the commission should reverse itself or “Congress will have to do it for them.”

Walther said he would support “Congressional clarification of the statute.”

A Buck for Lobbying. Dollar General Corp., the nation’s largest small-box discount retailer, has come to Washington, D.C. The Tennessee-based company hired Steve Brophy as vice president of government affairs. The former chief of staff to Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and one-time aide to then-Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) is Dollar General’s first in-house lobbyist.

Brophy, who is based out of Dollar General’s Goodlettsville, Tenn., headquarters, is registered to lobby on consumer protection, health care, banking, labor and trade issues, according to a recently filed Senate lobbying registration.

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