Treatise Could Illuminate Obama’s View of FEC

Posted January 13, 2009 at 6:13pm

President-elect Barack Obama has tapped campaign finance lawyer Bob Lenhard and law professor Mark Alexander to review the policies and procedures of the Federal Election Commission, both men confirmed on Tuesday.

Lenhard, a former labor lawyer now practicing at Covington & Burling, was considered a pragmatist during his recent tenure as a commissioner at the agency. He avoided high-profile confrontations with lawmakers and agency watchdogs during a tense showdown that closed the regulator for six months last year, taking his name out of contention before the stalemate was resolved.

The former FEC commissioner declined to discuss his current work on the transition team.

Although Lenhard is a known commodity in election law circles, little appears to be known about his transition team copilot. Alexander, listed as a constitutional law professor on Seton Hall University’s Web site, also declined to comment “on the specific work that I do.”

“The point generally is to look at the different agencies and give the president-elect a sense of where things stand and some of the critical issues out there that he gets to deal with when he becomes president,” Alexander said.

Alexander did confirm, however, that he was the author of a recent academic paper, widely available on the Internet, titled “Let Them Do Their Jobs: The Compelling Government Interest in Protecting the Time of Candidates and Elected Officials.”

Written in 2006, the paper may offer a glimpse at how the Obama White House will view the agency. In his tome, Alexander generally concludes that it’s in the public interest to limit the amount of time lawmakers spend raising money for campaigns, a so-called time-protection rationale that he concludes “is a compelling government interest that safeguards the integrity of the political government system.”

“It serves to defend the integrity of campaigns, to ensure that the people’s business gets done and to preserve the values of the American Republic,” he wrote. “With that established, campaign expenditure limits are the most narrowly tailored means to protect the time of candidates and officeholders.”

“They reduce the amount of money to be spent and accordingly reduce the amount of time required to raise that money,” Alexander continued. “Spending limits are more directly responsive than public financing and they do not carry the significant corruption of complete regulation.”

In his article, Alexander also is critical of the public financing system, which his boss opted out of last cycle, and chucking contribution limits, which he calls a “recipe for disaster.” He wrote that “at first blush, public financing could serve the goal of reducing the time spent raising money, but upon further exploration it does not serve the time protection rationale as effectively as expenditure limits.”

“Public financing can be seen as a well-crafted, constitutionally sound response to the time protection concern,” he wrote. “But as candidates want more and more money to run their campaigns, under the current state of law, voluntary public financing cannot combat the runaway spending and candidates will constantly opt out.”