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Wertheimer said he and other nonprofits “are going to try to do everything” that they can to increase public pressure for nominees through the end of April, when five of the six commissioners’ terms will have expired.
“The failure of the FEC to exist for all practical purposes is great for candidates, political operatives, lawyers who represent the regulated community and for donors,” he said. “But it is an unmitigated disaster for the American people and the country’s anti-corruption campaign finance laws.”
Reiff said that if you put the rhetoric aside, the FEC’s recent decisions mirror similar ones at the Supreme Court, which has knocked down key provisions of campaign finance laws during the past five years. These include Citizens United v. FEC, where the court ruled that corporate funds could be used to run ads for and against candidates during election season.
“I think the FEC is a reflection of the courts right now,” Reiff said. “You basically have five Supreme Court justices who are practically in sync with the Republican commissioners and four who are not.” And that area of agreement is for less regulation of campaign spending, not more.
Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, who has served on the commission since 2002, said the FEC “is more dysfunctional than it has ever been.”
Weintraub, who often votes in favor of stronger campaign finance regulations, said she believes there is some validity to the arguments by campaign finance reform advocates that the FEC is broken.
“It’s more than rhetoric,” she said. “You can look at the stats on 3-to-3 splits. ... We are splitting more than we ever have.”
Many of the press releases and statements issued by campaign finance groups during the past couple of years have focused on McGahn, a Republican commissioner who often leads debate on behalf of his party. McGahn served as chairman of the commission in 2008.
McGahn said the FEC has made huge strides in recent years in transparency since he and his Republican colleagues have been seated and that many attacks he has received have lacked validity.
“These groups keep making the same petty attacks about not enforcing the law,” he said after the agency’s Thursday meeting. “The law is ultimately what the Supreme Court says it is. My oath is to uphold the Constitution, and the FEC can’t just do whatever it wants.”
McGahn said he does not resent being singled out so frequently by foundation-supported campaign finance groups in their efforts to pass more regulations. “I don’t mind them using me to fundraise,” he said, laughing. “I just wish I could get a cut.”