Editorial: Obama’s FEC

Posted December 1, 2009 at 4:05pm

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and various government watchdogs have rightly denounced the Federal Election Commission for gutting the 2007 federal law restricting travel on corporate jets by Senators and presidential candidates.

However, they’ve gone easy on a one-time co-sponsor of the law who has abetted this and other mischief by the FEC — none other than President Barack Obama.

Obama has it in his power to nominate replacements for three commissioners whose terms have expired, notably including Republican Don McGahn, leader of a bloc dedicated to undercutting federal election law and its enforcement.

Obama has made only one nomination — union lawyer John Sullivan to replace pro-enforcement commissioner Ellen Weintraub — but has delayed any action on the McGahn slot and that of Democrat Steven Walther.

The result is that the evenly divided FEC has deadlocked on decision after decision, basically because the McGahn bloc has resisted action, even when it has been recommended by the FEC staff.

In the present case, the commission was deadlocked 3-3 on the proposed regulation governing corporate travel until Walther changed his vote in order that some regulation be instituted.

Something may be better than nothing, but this something is an outrage. The FEC left intact the House’s clear, absolute ban on Members and candidates’ travel on corporate jets, but found a loophole for Senators.

Even though the Senate’s clear intention in passing the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act was to restrict corporate travel — by forcing anyone accepting it to pay steep charter rates for the transportation — the commission found a way to allow Senate and presidential candidates to do so paying cheaper first-class fare if the bill was paid by a leadership or party political action committee.

Republican Commissioner Matthew Petersen defended the action in a Roll Call Guest Observer on Tuesday by saying that the FEC followed the letter of the law, which he said focused on who paid for the travel, not who traveled.

But who should know better what the law said than one of its principal authors? Feingold declared, “Once again, the FEC has proven itself to be a lawless agency, this time creating an enormous loophole in Congress’s crackdown on corporate jets.—

He said the corporate jet provision, sponsored by himself, then-Sen. Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), was designed to “prohibit Senators from getting an enormous corporate subsidy,— was “a centerpiece— of the 2007 law and “was approved overwhelmingly by Congress and no one had any doubt what it meant.—

As part of its blast at the FEC decision, one watchdog group, Public Citizen, mentioned that “Obama has neglected— to appoint a replacement for McGahn. Feingold did not.

We submit, it’s time for campaign finance reformers to turn up the heat on the White House. If they don’t like what the FEC is doing and not doing, they should remember, it’s now Obama’s FEC.