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FEC’s Institutional Memory Says Farewell

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

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“There was a sense that the rules on the books applied only to the naive and that the real ‘players’ worked with a different system,” Biersack said.

Congress responded by requiring political parties to disclose those donations. Then advocacy groups got involved with issue ads and Congress acted once again to control spending.

At the FEC, the changes kept Biersack and his colleagues on their toes. In the 1990s, he worked closely with Patricia Young, the current director of the FEC’s Public Disclosure Division, to develop a way to track soft money.

“He’s certainly a team player in more than one way,” said Young, who noted that Biersack has had positive effects on everything from the agency’s information technology division to its softball team, where his left-handed pitching became an asset.

Biersack also helped develop the agency’s electronic filing system and disclosure databases. His favorite day on the job was during the 2000 presidential race, when candidates filed electronically for the first time.

“You had a sense that everybody was watching their Web browsers,” Biersack said, adding that newspapers were able to provide overnight analysis that previously took weeks.

Biersack said his accomplishment remains tainted by Congress’ refusal to require Senate campaign committees to file electronically. Biersack said the Senate’s insistence on paper filings has cost the agency millions in duplicative efforts.

“It’s just ridiculous,” he said. “There is no rational reason for them to do it.”

In 2002, as court challenges loosened election disclosure, Biersack became the FEC’s deputy press officer. Two years later, he took over the office, a position he described as the most difficult and fun.

“If I was good at anything, it was being able to translate complicated things into more straightforward language,” he said.

George Smaragdis worked with Biersack in the press office and said Biersack knew the data so well that he had a surprising number of committee ID numbers memorized.

“Not only could he dig into the numbers, he also understood how it is that the law worked,” Smaragdis said.

In 2009, Biersack returned to the technical side to work on the next generation of disclosure databases — a more user-friendly system based on his knowledge of how academics and journalists use FEC data.

He still mentors curious minds and will probably do so in retirement. Paul Herrnson, director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland, said Biersack’s impulse is always to help.

“If everyone in the state government or federal government had his orientation,” Herrnson said, “our government would function much, much better.”

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