The Federal Election Commission effectively turned down a motion to rewrite election disclosure laws Thursday. Brought forth by petition, the 3-2 vote in favor of the moving on the petition was divided between the agency’s two Democrats and three Republicans. Tweet it: Tweet
Decisive action on any petitions before the FEC are unlikely to proceed as four votes are required to take any official action and all, but one commissioner is serving an expired term, and one seat remains vacant.
The two dissenting votes prevented the commission from moving forward with reassessing title 11, section 104.20 in the Code of Federal Regulations. A change in the statute would have broader campaign finance implications since the commission may consider unresolved issues from Van Hollen v FEC as soon as March 11.
FEC Char Ellen Weintraub qualified her ‘no’ vote in a statement:
“[The] Petitioner’s proposal does nothing to fix the regulation’s deficiencies – on the contrary, it would cement them in place. I could not agree to do so.”
By agreeing to revise the ‘narrow’ statute specifically, further attempts to tighten campaign finance regulations may prove counter-productive, Weintraub asserted.
Should the FEC choose to act on the statute later, disclosure requirements for Super PACs could wither further. Alternatively, more robust disclosure requirements could be enacted if broader regulations were subject to rewriting.
Van Hollen v FEC, on top of several other court cases including Citizens United, have continuously repealed portions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act or the “McCain–Feingold Act,” passed in 2002. McCain-Feingold required disclosure standards be met for funds associated with electioneering communications (campaign ads expressly advocating the support or defeat of one candidate).
Unsurprisingly, over the four election cycles, disclosure rates for funds associated with electioneering ads have dropped, falling from almost total disclosure to about 20 percent this past cycle. Tweet stat: Tweet
The group that introduced the petition, the Center for Individual Freedom (CFIF) is a 501(c)4 non-profit political action committee. Dedicated to “protect[ing] and defend[ing] individual freedoms and individual rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution,” the organization spent $2 million on the 2012 elections opposing strictly Democrats in five states, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Advocates of liberalized disclosure laws, like the CFIF, argue that non-disclosure is an essential facet of free speech; dissuading individuals from speaking out, for fear they would be subject to unwanted reprisals if their political contributions were publicly known.
As loopholes around disclosure requirements continue to duplicate, ‘dark money,’ also known as campaign-related funds with no verifiable source, has exploded. The Sunlight Foundation estimates 256 million ‘dark dollars’ were spent in an attempt to influence the 2012 election and the vast majority, 85 percent, of those went towards negative ads. Tweet at the Sunlight Foundation: Tweet
The Thursday decision, or rather lack thereof, is emblematic of the systemic problems facing the federal agency. Split along partisan lines, the commission rarely agrees on definitive action.