FEC deadlocks on and delays key decisions


In a session marked more by delay than by decision, the Federal Election Commission did not approve a request by the Democratic Governors Association to use soft money to fund a new group that would participate in federal get-out-the-vote efforts, a matter it put off voting on at its last meeting in August. 

By forming a separate organization, the group of state governors was seeking to get around a legal ban on groups of state lawmakers from playing in federal elections with unlimited funds.

The two Democrat-appointed commissioners voted against approval, disappointing the three GOP commissioners who believed the DGA was on solid legal footing. Four votes are required to approve an advisory opinion.

The deadlocked vote came after the commissioners spent almost an hour in a bitter debate over its long-dispute over enforcement procedures, something GOP commissioners have pushed for a decision on. Chair Ellen Weintraub, a Democratic appointee, continues to block the issue from the FEC's agenda.

The partisan rancor carried into the vote on DGA's request. In a thinly veiled critique of her Democratic colleagues, a visibly annoyed Commissioner Caroline Hunter told the DGA's lawyer, Marc Elias, "People didn't work as hard as they could," to find a way to approve the DGA's request.

The Democratic Commissioners feared that the DGA's new group, called Jobs & Opportunity, would be too closely connected to the DGA itself. Federal election law restricts associations of state officials from using soft money–raised in unlimited amounts from corporations and labor unions–to influence federal elections. The DGA, whose membership includes Democratic governors, had argued that the restriction should not apply to a group established by those officials, but which did not include them as members.

The lack of approval from the FEC will not prevent DGA and its surrogate, Jobs & Opportunity, from proceeding with its plan if the group believes it is on solid legal footing.

The FEC also deadlocked on a request by Democratic Massachusetts congressional candidate Martin Long, who is running in the special election to replace Ed Markey, who filled the Senate vacancy created when John Kerry was appointed Secretary of State. Long is seeking to advertise his book, which he seeks to profit from, about gridlock in Congress through his campaign materials despite a law prohibiting candidates from using campaign resources for personal gain.

In the past, the FEC has permitted such self-promotion on campaign materials if it is "de minimis."  But in Weintraub's view, the text about the book on the campaign literature distributed by the Long campaign, which took up about ten percent of its content, was "prominent." And a door hanger printed by the campaign has an image and description of the book on one of its sides, but not the other.

Finally, the commissioners did sanction one request — by the Service Employees International Union. The labor union, which solicits donations to its political action committee from its rank and file, wants its members to authorize donations on recorded phone calls. Currently, the donations are authorized in writing or electronically.


(Photo credit: PoliticalActivityLaw.com via Flickr)