The Lonely Centrist

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Bauer on August Reform

The always insightful Bob Bauer is back from vacation with some thoughts on August editorials on one of my favorite subjects, campaign finance reform. Bauer writes that the editorials expressing outrage over a recent FEC decision regarding fundraising by federal officeholders for the California redistricting ballot initiative rely on an old canard of the reform industry: that the Commission "disregarded the advice of its lawyer," i.e. the Commission's General Counsel, who is hired by the Commissioners. (My take on that decision was here.) Bauer notes this line of editorial assault, and writes:
The FEC did not agree with its General Counsel. This is a staple in the
Progressive outlook: the work of the civil servant is pure, while the choices
made by the "political" Commissioners are hopelessly tainted.
To add a few cents worth, what is worth noting is that the so-called reform community only trots out this argument when the Commission's General Counsel agrees with them. Thus, 15 months ago, when the General Counsel proposed delaying any decision on new regulations for so-called 527 organizations in order to study the issue, the "reform" lobby didn't say, "oh, well, the General Counsel recommends that. OK." No. They were outraged. Fred Wertheimer wrote,

Today, the general counsel of the Federal Election Commission (FEC)
recommended that the FEC postpone for 90 days consideration of new regulations
to address the improper use of soft money by 527 groups in the 2004 federal
elections. The FEC is currently scheduled to act on such new regulations at its
meeting on Thursday, May 13.
This 90 day postponement if adopted by the
Commissioners would be the worst kind of bureaucratic farce and a complete
abdication by the FEC of its responsibilities.

When the FEC's General Counsel recommended that the FEC dismiss a complaint filed by John McCain against Republicans for Clean Air without an investigation (on the grounds that the complaint did not state a violation of the law), John McCain did not say, "Oh, well, the General Counsel recommends it. OK." No, Senator McCain railed repeatedly against the FEC for its action. Here is just one example. In a July 10, 2003 news conference, Senator McCain argued that the FEC should be abolished. As one of its failures, he said: (If you subscribe to FDCH, you can get this transcript):

Let me just give you a small personal example . As is well-known, there was an
organization that called themselves Republicans For a Clean Environment that
turned out to be two rich millionaires from Texas who spent several million
dollars in campaign ads attacking me. We asked for an investigation. We didn't
ask for a finding of criminality; we just asked for an investigation.
Three-to-three: no, no investigation.

No, no deference there. As in so many things, the reformers, and their witless editorial allies, are full of brown stuff.

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