FEC’s Offer: Tell Us How We’re Doing

Posted April 25, 2003 at 12:46pm

Members of the regulated campaign finance community received an offer too good to pass up last week — an invitation to tell the Federal Election Commission how they really feel about the agency’s enforcement process.

“The Commission is currently examining its enforcement practices and procedures,” according to an FEC notice approved last week. “The Commission is conducting this review to determine if issues have arisen that require re-examination or adaptation of enforcement practices and procedures.”

The FEC is accepting comments on the topic until May 30 and plans to hold a public hearing on the matter from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 11.

To put it mildly, the FEC’s murky and complicated enforcement process has been a source of contention for the regulated community, but the agency is not looking for “complaints or compliments about individual employees.”

The agency hopes to open up a constructive and general dialogue on how the FEC’s enforcement procedures have been “helpful or unhelpful in working through enforcement cases.”

The FEC is looking for reaction to how it designates respondents in a case and whether it should better clarify how it notifies individuals involved in a case of confidentiality requirements under federal law.

The agency is also seeking input on whether it should create formal rules or motions in cases, such as motions to dismiss and motions to reconsider.

Deposition and document-production practices will also be examined, including whether respondents should be able to appear in person before the commission at various stages in an investigation.

The agency is seeking comment on whether it should reconsider releasing documents related to closed cases when an upcoming election is near and whether it should make public its penalty guidelines.

Whether the agency will ultimately make any changes to its existing enforcement process — which has not been subject to public comment in 25 years — remains to be seen, but officials think it’s a good starting point.

GOP Commissioner Bradley Smith praised the effort, noting that letters to the FEC often show that enforcement procedures “provoke confusion and apprehension.”

“We must remain mindful of how our practices affect not only the sophisticated Washington parties that come before us, but also these smaller committees, candidates and donors.”