Thursday, June 01, 2006

FEC Fails to Act on 527s ... Again

As Thomas Edsall reports in the Washington Post, the Federal Elections Commission voted 4-2 yesterday to leave open the 527 loophole through which billionaires and labor unions poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the 2004 presidential elections.

This is the FEC's second swing and a miss at the issue. The Commission also punted in early 2004, saying that it didn't want to affect campaign law prior to the 2004 presidential election. This ruling allowed liberal barons like George Soros and Peter Lewis and conservative tycoons like Bob Perry and T. Boone Pickens to donate millions over federal campaign limits to 527 groups, which spent a significant chunk of that money on ads which otherwise would have been subject to contribution limits. (527s are named after a section of the federal tax code under which they are created.)

In 2005, a court ordered the FEC to either 1) explain its earlier ruling better or 2) re-issue rules consistent with the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act's prohibition of "soft money". The FEC chose option 1, with the practical result described by FEC Chairman Michael Toner (one of the two dissenters, along with Commissioner Hans Van Spakovsky):

"Absent Congressional action," Mr. Toner said, "no one should be surprised if 527 soft-money spending in '06 and '08 becomes one of the driving forces in determining which candidates are elected."

Big money's lawyer-lieutenants are hailing the FEC's inaction, declaring it a victory for sweetness and light over the oppressive forces that would offer equal democratic opportunity to Americans regardless of the size of their wealth and income. As ever, they seek to dress the torrents of millionaire and billionaire green pouring into American politics in a patriotic redwhiteandblue, but their appeals to the First Amendment are typically and tediously hollow.

Even muffled by the flag draped around their legalistic sentiments, their conception of the Bill of Rights comes through loud and clear: you got the bills, you get the rights.

Free speech belongs to us all, not just the rich. The same holds true for our rights to a representative democracy. Yesterday's vote by the FEC supposes and supports just the opposite, making it not at all clear to me that the Commission deserves a third swing at enforcing our country's campaign laws.

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