Friday, August 21, 2015

Another Democrat bureaucrat activist turning a watchdog agency into political machine.

They take special aim at the commission's Democratic chairwoman, Ann Ravel, who also served as chairwoman of California's equivalent to the FEC, the Fair Political Practices Commission, before coming to Washington in 2013. Ravel has lambasted the commission as "dysfunctional" because votes on enforcement issues have often resulted in ties, and she has said the commission should go beyond its role of enforcing election laws by doing more to get women and minorities elected to political office. She has complained that super PACs are "95 percent run by white men," and that as a result, "the people who get the money are generally also white men."
To remedy those problems, Ravel sponsored a forum at the FEC in June to talk about getting more women involved in the political process. She has also proposed broadening disclosure laws to diminish the role of outside spending, and suggested that the FEC should claim authority to regulate political content on the Web. She's also voiced support for eliminating one member of the commission in order to create a partisan majority that doesn't have tie votes, saying in an interview with Roll Call, "I think it would help."
Hans von Spakovsky, who served on the FEC from 2006-2008, takes issue with Ravel's effort to go beyond the traditional purview of the commission's functions. "The FEC has one duty, and one duty only — to enforce the existing campaign finance laws. It has no business trying to 'encourage' or 'discourage' folks to get involved in politics, no matter who they are, minority or otherwise," Spakovsky told the Washington Examiner.

Jessica Levinson, a campaign finance attorney and professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, disagrees, saying that an odd number of commissioners would be a good thing. "Given the gridlock and inaction that we've seen from the FEC over the past few years, I think that is an idea well with exploring. It is quite clear that the FEC is not functioning as is, and therefore that there is really no watchdog at the federal level. There is a reason that when appellate judges make decisions they sit on three-judge panels. For the same reason, there are nine Supreme Court Justices."
Ravel did not respond to a request for comment.
The votes on which the commission ties often pertain to alleged violations by the third-party groups known as super political action committees. Super PACs have no contribution limit and no spending limit as long as they do not "coordinate" with the candidates for whom they are spending. The FEC defines this as "payment made in cooperation with, at the suggestion of, or per an understanding with a candidate." Critics of those groups say they often circumvent the law by straddling the definition of coordination.
Ravel co-signed a letter with fellow Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub in June, saying the spending that those groups engage in on behalf of candidates should count toward the spending limit for those candidates. "There is this basic notion that super PACs are supposed to be separate from the candidates," Weintraub has said. "[Voters] look at what's going on, and they say: 'This doesn't look separate. Where are the lines?'"
The Wall Street Journal's editorial board has compared Ravel to the IRS' Lerner, who's also been accused of using her office to push a political agenda. "We'll take our chances with donations freely given than with the arbitrary and partisan rulings of Lois Lerner at the IRS or Ann Ravel at the Federal Election Commission," the editorial board wrote.
Spakovsky also referred to a June 2013 interview with Ravel in which she appeared to express support for Lerner's targeting of conservative organizations. In the interview, Ravel said, "The IRS has apparently sent some letters to a number of 501(c)(4)s [nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations] asking them to justify that they are in fact social welfare organizations, but so far there is no evidence that the IRS has taken any action against these organizations." She went on to say, "It is very important that it happen."
Asked about the comments, Ravel's office stated that she "was responding to a question and by stating 'apparently' made plain that she based her remarks on publicly available media reports, not on personal knowledge," and that "she was not referring to any particular cases."
Lerner had apologized the preceding May for the discovery that, under her leadership, the IRS had targeted groups with words such as "tea party" and "patriot" in their names. Lerner resigned the following September.
Ravel, Spakovsky said, "does not see her role as enforcing campaign finance laws," but rather "to use her government authority as a partisan weapon, particularly against the same type of conservative groups that Lois Lerner targeted."
Cleta Mitchell, a Republican campaign finance attorney in Washington, voiced a similar sentiment. "She and Lois Lerner are peas in a pod," Mitchell said. "She wants to weaponize government agencies to shut down and chill free political speech," which, she continued, is "a very odd position for someone who swore to uphold the Constitution."
Yet Ravel has supporters, and if she fails at the FEC, others have advocated using the IRS to accomplish some of her policy objectives.
Fred Wertheimer, the president of Democracy 21, a group dedicated to the reform of campaign finance laws, has advocated as much. "The bottom line is clear: to stop widespread abuses of the tax laws… it is essential that the IRS adopt new regulations to limit campaign activity by section 501(c)(4) groups," he wrote.
"New proper regulations will prevent 501(c)(4) groups from continuing to launder hundreds of millions of dollars in 'dark money' contributions into federal elections," Wertheimer wrote last fall, referencing the fact that super PACs are not subject to regular contribution limits or disclosure requirements.
In a statement issued last month, Wertheimer said candidates were counting on Ravel's colleagues to continue preventing the kind of enforcement he would like to see. "Presidential candidates are counting on the fact that the FEC, a dysfunctional, paralyzed agency, will not enforce the campaign finance laws," he said. As a result, he complained, "Presidential candidates are wiping out the campaign finance laws and in the process becoming deeply indebted to the nation's wealthiest people."

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