As Primaries Begin, the FEC Will Shut Down
By Matthew Mosk
The Washington Post
Saturday 22 December 2007
No quorum on election board as nominees stall in Congress.
The federal agency in charge of policing the torrent of political spending during the upcoming presidential primaries will, for all practical purposes, shut its doors on New Year's Eve.
The Federal Election Commission will effectively go dark on Jan. 1 because Congress remains locked in a standoff over the confirmation of President Bush's nominees to the panel. As a consequence, the FEC will enter 2008 with just two of six members - short of the four votes needed for the commission to take any official action.
"There is, in effect, nobody to answer the phone," said Robert F. Bauer, a leading Democratic campaign finance lawyer.
Although the 375 auditors, lawyers and investigators at the FEC will continue to process work already before them, a variety of matters that fall to the commissioners will be placed on hold indefinitely. Chief among them are deciding whether to launch investigations into possible campaign finance violations and determining the penalties.
Seven presidential candidates have applied to receive public matching funds for their campaigns, but they may not be able to access the money until the FEC certifies their requests. That takes four votes.
The national political parties each anticipate an infusion of about $1 million from the U.S. Treasury to help pay for their national conventions. Releasing that money takes four votes.
And then there is a range of vexing campaign finance questions that hang in limbo: Can a firm that operates a blimp accept unlimited contributions to fly it over New Hampshire with Ron Paul's name on the side? Can a senator use his campaign account as a legal defense fund? How will campaigns comply with the new law that requires them to identify the lobbyists who are collecting campaign checks on their behalf?
"Work on those questions will grind to a halt," said FEC Chairman Robert D. Lenhard, whose recess appointment will expire on New Year's Eve. Lenhard said he did not wish to reflect on the situation, other than to offer a familiar lament.
No comment from the editor is necessary, especially since any such comment would, in all likelihood, be scatological rather than constructive.
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