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Experts Pessimistic About FEC Despite Ravel Nomination

by Raul Carranza, published

The White House has received wide praise for nominating Ann Ravel to the FEC. As the chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), Ravel has been a fierce watchdog; especially, when it comes to 'dark money' organizations that violated state campaign finance rules.

"Ann Ravel will be an excellent FEC commissioner if she is confirmed.” said Rick Hasen, professor of law at the University of California Irvine and former editor of the Election Law Journal. “She has shown tremendous leadership, especially on the issue of disclosure and enforcement at the FPPC.”

When asked whether or not she'll be confirmed he added, “I don't think anyone will have issues with Ravel herself, but whether or not she gets confirmed seems to be more a function of what the Senators will agree to, and on that it's anyone's guess.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) has been a staunch opponent of disclosure and campaign finance reform. He's warned House Republicans not to support any bipartisan disclosure legislation and has been called the “Darth Vader” of campaign finance reform.

However, even if Ravel gets confirmed, it might not matter. Current outgoing commissioner Donald F. McGahn is seeking to take advantage of a temporary 3-2 majority in order to implement rules that make it harder for the FEC to enforce regulations.

This would put the final nail in the coffin of an agency that already struggles to enforce much of anything. Though Hasen argues that it's already too late, his opinion on the FEC is that "it is as good as dead. It needs a fundamental rethinking as an enforcement agency.”

It's unclear exactly how the agency should be reshaped. Hasel argues it should be structured more like other independent enforcement agencies. While that structure has worked for law enforcement agencies, having one person (the director) wield that kind of political power would be unwise.

One model that could work is implemented by the FPPC itself. The agency has five separate divisions and each division has separate responsibilities. They all act as checks on each other with the chairman being appointed to one four year term by the governor. If it's going to scale nationally, it might be better to choose the chairman differently so the position isn't subject to the whims of whatever party is in the White House.

Whatever the solution, the general consensus from campaign finance reformers is the current FEC model is broken and needs a fundamental rethinking. Its bipartisan appointment system has created a recipe for partisan and ideological gridlock. The FPPC gives the federal government a good blueprint for what a nonpartisan campaign finance agency could look like. Officials are chosen based on how well they're going to enforce the laws instead of what letter they have next to their name.

How would you reform the FEC? Do you think it needs reform? Tell us in the comments.

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