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Four years ago, President Barack Obama ran on a platform of change that included overhauling the campaign finance system.
But, as in many policy areas, Obama’s big plans for campaign finance reforms never quite panned out. Despite repeated pleas to Obama from watchdog groups to strengthen or even appoint new commissioners to the Federal Election Commission, the president had other priorities. Now Obama, swamped by unrestricted spending on behalf of his GOP opponent, has asked the FEC for help. But some reform advocates say it’s too little, too late.
In an FEC complaint filed June 19, the Obama campaign’s general counsel argues that GOP-aligned issue advocacy groups, namely American Crossroads and affiliated Crossroads GPS, violated election law by running campaign ads under the guise of a social welfare organization.
“Certainly, this outside money is going to be against Obama,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen. “I think, had he taken action and fixed the FEC, that would have at least [reduced the magnitude of the problem].”
The FEC is an independent agency that does not report to the president. A resolution on any issue requires the support of a majority of the body’s six commissioners. But the agency often splits along party lines, leaving key questions undecided. Gridlock is the likely outcome for the Obama complaint, experts said.
“It would not at all surprise me to see this complaint lead to a 3-3 deadlock,” Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel Paul S. Ryan said. “The Republican commissioners seem very unwilling to enforce the laws they agreed to enforce. In terms of timeliness, the FEC normally takes in excess of a year.”
The biggest issue plaguing the commission today is that the terms of five of the six current commissioners have expired.
“It’s ironic that the Obama administration is filing [a complaint] with the FEC,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “You’re going to have Obama’s commission ignoring his own petition.”
Increasing gridlock at the FEC has prompted growing complaints from watchdog groups. The number of cases on which the commission has deadlocked is unprecedented in the agency’s more than 35-year history, according to Ryan.
Obama’s reluctance to address this particular campaign finance issue came as a surprise to observers with high expectations for the president. But many acknowledged the difficult politics associated with the confirmation process.comments powered by Disqus