Friday, February 20, 2004

FEC States the Obvious in 21 pages of Complexity
Bureaucrats at the Federal Elections Commission have made an artform out of drafting regulations that are both so weak that fat cats can easily evade them and so complex that reporters and citizens can hardly tell what's going on. This week the commission issued an advisory opinion that's a case in point.

The opinion, which is available here, takes 21 pages to essentially say that if a bunch of people have formed a political action committee whose purpose is to spend money influencing federal elections, that they have to abide by the laws regulating how money is spent in federal elections. These laws currently say that the PAC can't accept any money from corporations or labor unions, and can't take any more than $5000 from one person. Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

The issue becomes complex because of past FEC rulings that said that PACs can in fact raise money beyond the limits specified in the law, so long as they don't use that money to influence federal races. So, they can use unregulated funds, or so-called "soft" money to do things like influence state elections. Today's ruling essentially just says that they can't use those funds to in any way support or oppose federal candidates. Two commissioners voted against even this commonsense regulation.

Coming up next month, the FEC will consider whether or not other organizations, such as those created to lobby for legislation, can spend soft money in ways that influence federal elections. Citizens should stay tuned.

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