It's about time. I make a point of reviewing FEC filings on a routine basis just to see who is giving what to who. The one thing I've learned over the past year is this: When the FEC is asked for an opinion, it will always rule on the side of the Citizens United folks. I have yet to see them give the time of day to voters' concerns.
CREW feels the same way, evidently. Yesterday they filed suit against the FEC, alleging a practice of summarily dismissing complaints without explanation for the basis of the dismissal. Generally, the dismissals occur because of a deadlock between the three Democrats and the three Republicans on the commission. At least, that's the case unless it's a request for an advance opinion of some new and ugly practice by Republican consultants like Alex Castellanos or Carl Forti's Black Rock Group.)
From the press release:
“The gridlock at the FEC makes the Senate look high-functioning in comparison,” said Ms. Sloan. “The FEC is clearly a broken agency. Instead of ensuring fair elections in which all players follow the rules, too often commissioners refuse to act, and then, refuse to even explain why they failed to act. This leaves Americans in the dark, with no legal remedy. Even worse, candidates can freely break campaign finance laws to gain an edge in a federal election without any fear of repercussions.”
From the lawsuit:
On March 14, 2007, CREW and Melanie Sloan filed a complaint with the FEC against Peace Through Strength Political Action Committee (“PTS PAC”) and its treasurer, Meredith Kelley, for violations of the FECA. The complaint alleged:
(1) PTS PAC, the political action committee of Rep. Duncan Hunter who was then a candidate for president of the United States, had knowingly received 11 contributions exceeding the FECA’s individual contribution limit for “testing the waters” activities in violation of 2 U.S.C. § 441a(f); (FEC report)
(2) PTS PAC had failed to register as a candidate committee in violation of 2 U.S.C. § 433(a);
(3) PTS PAC had made an excessive in-kind contribution in violation of 2 U.S.C. § 441a(a)(2)(A) and 11 C.F.R. § 110.2(b)(1); and (4) to the extent PTS PAC had failed to report disbursements for certain television advertisements it had violated 11 C.F.R. §§ 104.3(b) and 104.9(a).
What he did:
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Republican presidential candidate Duncan Hunter, a California congressman, has used his political action committee to run New Hampshire television ads introducing himself to voters -- in what some specialists say could be a violation of campaign finance laws.
In the ads, Hunter walks beside a huge wire fence and calls for it to be extended along hundreds of miles of the US border with Mexico. He then asks for viewers to "join with me, Duncan Hunter, at Peace Through Strength. Let's make sure Homeland Security builds the border fence." (Boston.com)
Why it's a big deal:
Hunter claimed his ads were nothing more than "issue ads". Yet the web address at the end of the ad pointed to a Hunter for President website. He used the PAC as a front for a Presidential bid so he could collect the higher PAC limit of $5,000, rather than the $2,300 allowed for individual candidates without identifying the PAC as a committee organized for his Presidential bid. That put him at an unfair advantage over other candidates who were in compliance with the laws.
Remarkably, the FEC's response, received July 23, 2010 to CREW's complaint was this:
According to Mr. Shonkwiler, the FEC found reason to believe Peace Through Strength Political Action Committee, Treasurer Meredith G. Kelley, Duncan Hunter, Hunter for President, Inc. and Treasurer Bruce Young violated specified provisions of the FECA and FEC regulations. Mr. Shonkwiler further advised that on June 29, 2010, the FEC determined to take no further action and closed the file in this matter.
Amazing. Yes, the FEC says, we did find that there was a violation of campaign finance laws, but we're not going to take any action. Instead we'll just close the file and pretend it never happened.
Similar activity took place with regard to CREW's complaint against the US Chamber of Commerce and the November Fund and the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign committee. CREW did not receive a response from the FEC for four years, and the response came in the form of a hand-delivered letter with this message:
According to Mr. Shonkwiler, on March 8, 2005, the FEC found reason to believe The November Fund and Bill Sittman had violated 2 U.S.C. §§ 433, 434, 441a(f), and 441b(a), and that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Tom Donohue had violated 2 U.S.C. § 441b(a).According to Mr. Shonkwiler, on March 8, 2005, the FEC found reason to believe The November Fund and Bill Sittman had violated 2 U.S.C. §§ 433, 434, 441a(f), and 441b(a), and that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Tom Donohue had violated 2 U.S.C. § 441b(a).
Two years later, on November 27, 2007, the FEC authorized the Office of the General Counsel to enter into negotiations to attempt to reach a settlement of this matter prior to a finding of probable cause to believe. A year later, on October 21, 2008, the FEC was equally divided on whether to accept a revised conciliation agreement and whether to take further action in this matter and, as a result, closed the matter. The FEC’s letter stated further: “A Statement of Reasons further explaining the basis for the Commission’s decision will follow.”
Because so much time had passed, the FEC's letter was sent to an old CREW address which hadn't been valid since 2006. The FEC did not explain the basis for the dismissal once again.
It goes without saying that publicly financed campaigns would end this madness, but we would still have Citizens United and corporate "helpers" out there exercising their right to "free speech". I don't see that going away anytime soon. If we can't count on the watchdogs to do what they're paid to do and deal with abuses of campaign disclosure laws on a timely basis, the terrorists win.