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“Now pretty much everything has to go to the table,” said Weintraub, whose term expired six years ago. “Everything gets objected to. Everything requires a lengthy discussion at the table.”
Some conservatives argue that the agency should just be shut down. At the recent Conservative Political Action Conference held near Washington, D.C., a panel of three GOP attorneys argued that the agency has “greatly overreached” its regulatory authority, according to a writeup by the Center for Public Integrity.
On the flip side, campaign finance watchdogs charge that the FEC has failed to enforce both the election laws and its own regulations. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington notched a small legal victory over the FEC last week, when a federal appeals court agreed that the agency had violated the Freedom of Information Act by refusing to respond in time to a CREW request.
“There’s no incentive to file accurate campaign finance reports because no one’s going to do anything about it,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said. “The incentive is, in fact, to break the law — or at least come really, really close.”
For many election lawyers, the FEC is less a scapegoat than one of many players in a campaign finance game that has become impossibly complicated. Laws have been rewritten and knocked down — leaving many scratching their heads over just what the rules are.
“It’s very easy to point to individual commissioners and say, ‘They are being heavy handed,’ or, ‘They are unwilling to enforce the laws,’ ” said Marc Elias, chair of the political law practice at Perkins Coie. “I do think we need to acknowledge that there are some very, very difficult and thorny questions as to what pieces of the law are enforceable, and in what circumstances, after a series of court decisions that radically reordered and changed the campaign finance system.”
Still, the longer Obama delays nominating new commissioners, the more political players will be tempted to take the election laws into their own hands.