The Money-Politics Firewall

A Long-needed law to curb the flow of money into political campaigns takes effect soon, just after November's midterm elections. But creating a law is one thing, implementing it is another. The law's promise won't be met unless there's rigorous oversight and enforcement.

That need cannot be met by the present Federal Election Commission (FEC). Simply put, the agency is flawed, and especially marred by partisan politics.

It is composed of an equal number (three each) of Republicans and Democrats – each with a vested political interest. Congress set it up that way, fearing that a more independent agency might actually curb fundraising.

Further, the FEC hasn't been given the money to enforce election laws effectively, and often has been subject to congressional meddling. Now the concern is that the FEC, which is developing rules to implement the new campaign finance law, could actually jeopardize the law.

A coalition of citizen watchdog groups called Project FEC recently released a report on the agency. Its central conclusion: The FEC is "a classic example of a 'captured' agency' " – one that tends to cater to the groups it's supposed to be regulating. Split down the middle as the FEC usually is in voting, gridlock, rather than effective enforcement, often results.

Here's an example of how silly the set-up is: Two FEC members actually worked to block the reform bill in Congress. Now they're expected to enforce it?

Project FEC has come up with a sensible plan: Replace the agency with a single, fair-minded administrator and a diligent staff, similar to the General Accounting Office. Election-law disputes would be handled by administrative-law judges – appointed individuals who work as independent agents within government agencies. Such a setup should help keep fairness in, and politics out.

The FEC's record shows that it is not the right agency for the new law. Many political candidates, especially incumbents, need better adult supervision in raising money for campaigns so that money doesn't continue to taint how Congress operates.

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