Clegg: You should care about the "worse than dysfunctional" F.E.C.

BY KEITH EVANSON | MAY 06, 2015 5:00 AM

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In an interview with the New York Times on May 2, Ann Ravel, the chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission, bluntly stated, “People think the FEC is dysfunctional. It’s worse than dysfunctional.”

Ravel’s comments about her own agency are worrisome but not all that surprising when you take a look at the even split of Democrats and Republicans who make up the agency. The six-person commission, which, according to its website, is tasked with “administering and enforcing federal campaign-finance laws,” is unsurprisingly unable to come to agreement on a lot of issues. Without one person voting across party lines, an agreement can’t be reached, and if an agreement can’t be reached, then the commission is stuck in a negotiating limbo where nothing gets done.

A deadlock in the FEC is especially troubling given the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that allows entities such as corporations and businesses to graciously contribute money to the campaigns of their favorite politicians. Regardless of how you feel about that ruling, the commission that is made to handle the infractions that could arise because of it is essentially unable to act should those infractions occur. So, what’s at stake?

Estimates for the 2016 election of the amount of spending during increasingly privately funded campaigns have ranged from $10 billion by the New York Times to $5 billion by The Hill, two amounts that really are not that unfathomable considering the massive contributions that individuals such as the Koch brothers and Frank Giustra have given to the candidates that they support. One of the results of the increasing amount of money we see go into campaigning is that it creates space for corruption. What is the difference between a political contribution and one simply paying a fee for the promise of a law being created, for example?

Once upon a time, effective presidential campaigns were based on ideas, specific ideas that worked to benefit the country as a whole and make America the best possible place to live. Before the advent of such things as radio, TV, and the Internet, politicians relied on print-media outlets and touring the country to endorse those messages to millions of people. Now, with campaign funds that are backed by what seems to be an infinite influx of money from who knows where, how can one be sure that an idea represented by a campaign endorsement, say, a commercial, is actually the idea of the candidate and not one of the donors that is expecting to be rewarded for a generous contribution?

Money, or, should I say, capital (because you can donate a jet as easily as you can donate a dollar) has therefore diluted a major part of our political process — how we determine who to vote for. Now, much like most other things in the world, running for office does require some money. After all, there are expenses that need to be covered such as travel, paying staffers, buying space for campaign offices, etc., but the fact that the 2016 presidential campaigns are predicted to spend roughly equivalent to the revenue that the NFL generated last year should tell us something about the excessive amount of money that is often a pre-requisite for running for office. Furthermore, if the FEC is unable as an agency to address this issue, it raises the question: Why does it exist at all?

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